Widow Ruth (Alice Lowe) is seven months pregnant. Yet rather than surfing on Mumsnet or watching This Morning, she goes on a killing spree of those who have wronged her, guided by her unborn baby.
If What To Expect When You’re Expecting sits at one end of the Juno MacGuff Movie Maternity Scale, then at the polar opposite, nestled right next to Rosemary’s Baby, sits Alice Lowe’s Prevenge. Written, directed and starring Lowe as a response to her own pregnancy, it is a violent, lurid, funny roadside to all the sanitised received wisdom that surrounds being “with child”. Chiefly it suggests someone’s bundle of joy can be another person’s bundle of angst, loathing and misery undertaking (in Ruth’s words) a “hostile takeover” of a body. It’s a bold premise, yet for all Prevenge’s passion and invention, Lowe’s grasp falls short of her reach. It’s an uneven film that is great in parts but doesn’t cohere into a satisfying whole.
A violent, lurid, funny roadside to all the sanitised received wisdom that surrounds being 'with child'.
Prevenge is a bit like Kill Bill’s rollercoaster rampage of revenge if Beatrix Kiddo was British and knocked up rather than Uma Thurman and yellow-tracksuit svelte. The first two targets are men: a pervy pet shop owner (Dan Renton Skinner) and a memorable ’70s pub DJ (Tom Davis) who vomits into an Afro wig in the back of a cab, lives with his mum and runs a horrible line in misogynist patter (“I fucking love fat birds… you don’t mind what people do to you”). Just when you’ve got it pegged as a man hunt, Lowe the screenwriter changes it up and throws a cold career woman (Kate Dickie) onto the kill list. Lowe drip-feeds the impetus for the murder-fest but it creates a botched brand of intrigue and the reveal feels contrived. In-between the violence, we get Ruth’s visits to her annoyingly upbeat midwife (a terrific Jo Hartley) who jovially utters, “You have no control over your mind or body anymore.” Ruth sees this literally. She is carrying an instrument of death, urging her on (through a heavy-handed Gollum-esque voice), and the film becomes a battle between instinct and conscience.
Ben Wheatley collaborator on Kill List (acting) and Sightseers (acting/screenplay), Lowe shares a similar worldview, butting up the bloody and the banal — industrial parks, dingy pubs, underpasses — and enjoying the juxtaposition between the two. As a writer, Lowe’s triumph is to view the trappings of a Death Wish or Taxi Driver through the prism of a female character and preoccupations.
Yet the screenplay never really escapes the feeling it’s just a series of (impressive) sketches strung together and the film subsequently runs out of steam in its final third. She makes interesting directorial choices — the shallow focus in the pet shop, Toydrum’s excellent synth score — and the filmmaking has a raw quality, perhaps imitating Ruth’s mindset, yet it’s a fine line between intentionally ragged and plain old scrappy.
Seven months pregnant during the shoot, making her performance a titanic feat of Method acting, Lowe gives Ruth a blunt misanthropic quality and never softens or short changes her worldview. Here is where the films works best: as a psychological study of the alienating effects of pregnancy. Perhaps what is sadly most unusual about Prevenge is tha0t it allows a pregnant protagonist thoughts and feelings that exist beyond the child she is carrying. It’s a film that acknowledges the fear of growing something inside you and rightfully acknowledges not all women have an innate, natural feel for motherhood. Or as Ruth puts it, “Nature’s a bit of a cunt.”
Alice Lowe’s directorial debut may falter in its grip, especially in story and tone, but it’s a daringly evocative film that marks a filmmaker of imagination and promise.