By James Cain
Horror is often an exquisitely wild genre, taking us to dark depths of the civilization and worlds far from Earth. The genre can equally thrive hiding in plain sight, acknowledging our fears of everyday life. Moving to a new town (“The Stepford Wives”), meeting your partner’s parents (“Get Out”) and sexual health (“It Follows”) are things most of us will deal with at least once in our lives, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be scary. In 2016, “Prevenge” was released, instantly becoming one of the finest maternal-horrors around. The woman behind this twisted, bloody romp: Alice fucking Lowe.
An actor, writer, and director from Coventry in the UK, Lowe’s credentials are already magnificent. After several years of theatre, she began her on-screen career with “Comedy Lab”, and as co-lead Dr. Liz Asher in legendary comedy series “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace” (2004). This led to 12 years of working with some of best blackly-funny minds Britain has to offer: Ben Wheatley (“Sightseers”), Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”, “The World’s End”), and Reece Sheersmith & Steve Pemberton (“Inside No 9”) to name just a few.
“It’s also worth noting that “Prevenge” is a genuinely sad film. Without her husband, Ruth is alone in the world. We never see her with friends (seriously, make sure to keep your pregnant mates involved in the group!), and she struggles to get along with her cheery midwife.”
Lowe wrote, directed and starred in “Prevenge”, her feature film directorial debut, while pregnant, which lends a huge amount of authenticity and authority to the proceedings. “I do think the whole industry of pregnancy and having a baby is quite a strange one,” said Lowe in an interview with Film4. “The way that it’s all sanitized and packaged as being pink and pastel and lovely. I was like, ‘this is really weird’, and packaging all of that with fears of losing my career or losing my identity, that was definitely in my head as a strange experience that I was having.”
On the most surface level, the story is a fairly common one. Ruth (Lowe) embarks on an ambiguously-sparked rampage of revenge, setting out with a list of targets and murder on the mind. Only here, she isn’t calling the shots: her unborn baby is. The heavily-pregnant widow (Lowe was 7.5 months pregnant when shooting commenced) is spurred on by a high-pitched voice in her head, a vicious little bastard who mocks her mum/instrument with palpable anger at the world. “People think babies are sweet. But I’m bitter,” snarls the squeaky demon.
Filmed on a low-budget in a Cardiff, “Prevenge” isn’t dissimilar in vibe to the films of Ben Wheatley – not surprising given that Lowe co-starred in and co-wrote “Sightseers” (2012). Like her actor-turned-director contemporaries Richard Ayoade and Paddy Considine, Alice Lowe has begun her directorial career with a remarkably confident debut that sets up high hopes for the future. Given that she was already a well-known actor by this point, many of the characters are played by familiar faces from British comedy and drama: Kayvan Novak, Kate Dickie, Dan Renton Skinner, Tom Davis, and Jo Hartley all appear in the two-hander scenes that comprise most of the film, each at the top of their game (the actors were allowed to improvise extensively)
Very much a horror/comedy, “Prevenge” dances impressively between tones. The film is deliciously funny, the humour anchored by Lowe’s matter-of-fact delivery. This maniac is a woman you could easily know – heck, take out the fetus driving her to murder and Ruth could easily be a Ken Loach character. “Kids these days are really spoilt,” she laments after a hard day’s killing. “It’s like, ‘mummy, I want a PlayStation, mummy, I want you to kill that man.’”
“And while “Prevenge” isn’t going to offer a deep insight into grief and mental illness, it can stand alongside “The Babadook” as a film that recognises how difficult it is being a single parent, especially if you add staggering grief and mental illness to the mix.”
On the horror side of things, credit is due to special effects pros Colin J Smith and Dan Martin, lending a genuinely nasty look to the kills. The tone of each kill differs (satisfying, funny, shocking), but they always feel real. Cinematographer Ryan Eddleston brings each Cardiff locations to life, from a foreboding underpass to a soulless office building, to the haunting cliffs where something truly terrible has happened. Lowe brings extra horror flair to the proceedings with references to the likes of “Possession” and “The Wicker Man”. And what’s more, the film is brilliantly set at Halloween, with one scene mixing actors and costumed punters out on the town (plus, Ruth’s bright-red Grim Reaper outfit has given pregnant people the perfect costume for the rest of time).
It’s also worth noting that “Prevenge” is a genuinely sad film. Without her husband, Ruth is alone in the world. We never see her with friends (seriously, make sure to keep your pregnant mates involved in the group!), and she struggles to get along with her cheery midwife. One female character refuses to hire Ruth because of her pregnancy and how the company’s male clients might react. And while “Prevenge” isn’t going to offer a deep insight into grief and mental illness, it can stand alongside “The Babadook” as a film that recognizes how difficult it is being a single parent, especially if you add staggering grief and mental illness to the mix. The murder-fetus is a coping mechanism, a source of self-loathing and someone to whom Ruth can pass the buck. “I succumb to your will,” she whispers. “Baby knows best.”