Remember the baby in the 1978 film It’s Alive that embarked on a killing spree within minutes of being born? What if that baby decided to start dispatching people before it was delivered? That is the premise of Alice Lowe’s Prevenge. Well, sort of. There is a lot more to it than that but since a lot of fun in the film derives from finding out the unborn baby’s homicidal motives, I won’t spoil it for you.
Ruth (Alice Lowe, who also wrote and directed the film) is pregnant, but instead of clothes and cribs, she’s got murder on her mind. Actually, it’s on her unborn baby daughter’s mind, but since the baby keeps instructing her who to kill and when, she’s essentially beholden to those whims. Things are revealed bit by bit, all while remaining true to Lowe’s specific brand of dark, dry wit.
Even without knowing the “why?” behind the crimes, you’ll still be cracking up at the movie’s mordant sense of humor, which mercilessly mocks the way pregnant women are treated by society and their peers. Prevenge is uproariously funny but doesn’t shy away from gruesome kills, so be prepared to laugh and cringe in equal measure. The score by Toydrum is pure synth-horror, which, in addition to the outrageous plot, makes Prevenge feel a bit like an updated 1970s slasher with a lot of blackly comic elements.
If the feel of the film is familiar it might be because Ruth shares a lot in common with Tina from Ben Wheatley’s 2012 pitch-black horror comedy Sightseers, a character that was developed by Lowe before she co-wrote the screenplay with co-star Steve Oram.
What you won’t see in Prevenge are Wheatley’s typical lush, panoramic images. If anything, Prevenge is claustrophobic, with many shots in extreme (and extremely uncomfortable) close-up. Such framing serves to both thrust us directly into the action while at other times it purposely keeps important events outside of the frame in order to keep us guessing.
Despite the horrors on screen, Prevenge doesn’t look like a typical horror film, which makes the violence all the more jarring when it occurs. There are exceptions, however, and they are skillfully rendered.
A climactic segment of the film takes place during Halloween, but the clichéd markers of the holiday are replaced by drunken revelers, who are scary in an entirely different way. There’s also a scene in a tunnel, in which Ruth’s cramps may or may not be caused by her unborn child’s demands for blood. Whether the homage to Zulawski’s Possession was intentional or not, it’s quite effective.
Although the film is about the should-be joys of motherhood, there is little sentimentality in Prevenge. When it does appear, it’s sincere and not maudlin. And just when you think the movie might be headed down the path to a hokey resolution, it suddenly shifts, in a delightfully macabre way.
One of the best things about Prevenge is that Lowe wrote, directed, and starred in the film while she was seven and a half months pregnant, which is sort of the ultimate “fuck you” to the people in the movie—and the real world—who assume a woman’s life is defined by her decision to have children. Although Lowe is mostly known for her work as a character actress, Prevenge proves that she has much more to bring to the table. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Prevenge received its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, September 12.