Widow Ruth is seven months pregnant when, believing herself to be guided by her unborn baby, she embarks on a homicidal rampage, dispatching anyone who stands in her way.
Yeah. That almost works. But let’s make it more appropriate to the subject matter.
“Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned.” Or perhaps, “Hell hath no fury like a mother-to-be scorned.”
There we go. That’s it.
Prevenge is a new quirky, darkly comic horror film from writer/director Alice Lowe. She also happens to be the lead actress. And while true “triple threats” are hard to come by – Ms. Lowe confirms that they do indeed exist.
Prevenge follows Ruth (Lowe) in the final weeks of her pregnancy. She’s recently lost her lover Matt (Marc Bessant) to a tragic hiking accident and now her unborn child is offering up advice and suggestions about how Ruth should live her life. That advice is to kill people who may or may not have been involved in Matt’s death. Thus begins a bloody murder spree by Ruth and a true gem of a horrifically comic and emotionally touching ride.
If you’ve seen the pitch black (and brilliant) British comedy Sightseers, then you might recognize Lowe. She also appears in the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright hitsThe World’s End and Hot Fuzz. In Prevenge, she gives a tour-de-force performance as a woman on the edge – the edge of sanity, reality and becoming a mommy. There’s genuine sympathy for Ruth, as the baby growing in her belly continues to incite violence, even when Ruth doesn’t feel as though it’s right. For someone going around slaughtering people, sympathy is a tough get – but she manages it. Physically, the role had to have been challenging, as Lowe was actually pregnant (no fat-suits here) while shooting the film. With a genuinely chilling (but hysterical) performance, you have to marvel at the fact that Lowe also wrote and directed the piece. But if you know precisely, exactly what you want, why hire someone else to do it? And if you got precisely, exactly what you wanted and are impressing audiences the world over, it’s good that you did it your way.
The supporting cast is on point – many of them portraying “innocent” victims in everyday situations. So their genuine surprise at being attacked and quirky idiosyncrasies on display – offer plenty of humor and lots of horror. Of particular note is Leila Hoffman as the aging mother of a DJ whom Ruth seduces. The old woman’s dealing with dementia and how Ruth and she interact – well, it will put a lump in your throat. Yes, even a film this dark and this bloody can still have a few “awwww” moments.
The score is quite haunting, but still keeps in line with the total quirkiness of the overall film. The most memorable cues come as Ruth is walking down a deserted subway underpass – having failed to complete her baby’s latest task – each jarring note coinciding with Ruth’s continuous collapses. Brilliant!
What most intrigued me about the film, was the use of what I could believe (being a childless gay man) about what women experience during pregnancy. The bumbling midwife (a great supporting performance from Jo Hartley) tells Ruth that her body and mind are no longer her own. And as such, she is no longer in control. It’s all the cliché things you’ve seen or heard or read about – whacked-out hormones during pregnancy and how this imbalance will drive women insane. This just takes it to the highest extreme. Or does it? What do I know? But it certainly makes for a dark look at pregnancy and honestly – how far off is it? Could it happen? These are the questions which linger after watching the film. And thinking about a movie once it’s already over – that equals a thought-provoking winner, now doesn’t it?
There was a moment in the film which actually had me questioning if it had the right to be included. Its absence wouldn’t have necessarily changed anything about the overall story or required any re-maneuvering of major plot points. The only thing I see that it offered, was to further throw Ruth to the wolves. It frankly kind of hurt me. When you see the film, pay attention to a brief dialogue exchange between Ruth and Tom – Matt’s hiking instructor (Kayvan Novak) toward the end of the film. It’s still bugging me now – at least an hour after the film’s completion. Let me know what you think. Necessary nastiness or just plain adding too much onto Ruth’s plate. Hmmmm… I believe I’d like to ask Ms. Lowe about that.
The gore effects (lots of throat-slashings) are top-notch, gross out goodies. There is a C-section on full display and it doesn’t disappoint. I was reminded of the “inner-workings” in one of the segments of the anthology horror film, Southbound. Very detailed, very bloody and very realistic.
The addition of footage (both on a television screen being watched in the film and in a frightening hallucinatory yoga sequence) from a 1934 film called Crime Without Passion – is a perfect choice for Ruth’s frame of mind. And the fact that we revisit this film sequence later (particularly in the very final shot) gives it a lot of oomph. Frankly, many films don’t use footage of previous movies in a way that does them justice, or that appropriately captures what their own film is trying to say. Not the case here.
With a strong triple-threat performance (at the writer’s desk, behind the camera and in front) Alice Lowe is a force to be reckoned with. The film is offbeat, disturbingly comic and finally weirdly touching. It’s not easily categorizable, but the best films never are. I can’t wait to see what Lowe does next!
While it’s still early in the year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this critical darling on my year end “Best of” list. Stay tuned!
And remember, “Hell hath no fury like a mother-to-be scorned.” That’s all you need to know going in.
Prevenge is now available to view on the Shudder network, and I implore you to check it out.