Alice Lowe was introduced to me when she was the co-writer and co-star of Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, a dark comedy that was equal parts funny and disturbing. Lowe made an impact by being able to see the humor in darkness. With her directorial debut, Prevenge, she writes and directs herself in another dark comedy that explores the fears of pregnancy with enough jokes and violence to make anyone feel a little uncomfortable. But it’s an over-the-top look at an expecting mother’s blood lust that is definitely worth visiting.
Lowe plays Ruth, an expecting mother whose boyfriend (and the father of their upcoming child) was killed, leaving her alone with the child. Her unborn fetus has begun communicating with her psychically and pushes her to go on a crusade against those who would be unfit parents or are terrible to those giving birth. She is also constantly considering the potential for revenge against those she believes responsible for her boyfriend’s death. Hence the title Prevenge.
What follows is a series of murders that examine the hardships a single, pregnant woman may face today. From the lack of romantic possibilities, to the difficulty of getting a job, Lowe stands up for mothers as she tackles the institutions that are allegedly available to them. There’s a great scene which involves a businesswoman (Kate Dickie) interviewing Ruth, but seems to be just doing her duty as she then explains that hiring her would be irresponsible because she could be on maternity leave as soon as she is hired. Ruth isn’t just mad at the businesswoman and her specific actions, but mad at the whole systemic process. Which is something that elevates the film beyond just a series of murders with a loose connection.
The unfortunate thing is that each scene with a new character has the underlying notion that they will be killed by Ruth. Sure, occasionally it’s a “How will they die?” scenario, or “What is the reason for them dying?”, but it almost always ends in death. The issues that arise from this is that there is no tension in the film. What is most interesting is that nuance of why they are being killed, but even some scenes are pretty light on that, or lay it on far too thick. Having that inevitability is what kills a lot of the emotional moments of the scenes though.
There are plenty of emotional moments too, especially as Ruth is pushed into more murders. You can see an intent with some kills, but there’s an unpredictability to her (not really to the audience) where she doesn’t seem to be pushing too much for bloodshed. Lowe isn’t saying that all humans are bad. She makes a point to show several instances where niceties can occur. But her unpredictability is also pivotal to the film’s premise. She’s pregnant, and her emotions are going to fluctuate. In that same way, so does the tone of the film. There can be quiet moments that then suddenly become infused with a heavy electronic score, but the chaos that could be present in their shifts is greeted with a somewhat rational person attempting to mitigate the insanity. Ruth is constantly fighting her child’s desire to kill and take over, which makes for a compelling way to frame the film.
Prevenge is extremely funny at times though, too. It’s important to note that because just like Ruth’s emotions being so weird at times, the film itself can strike a weird tone by being a dark comedy. The act of murder itself could be amusing, or just the sudden shift to a joke after some bloodshed. Never is it a wrong time to crack wise, but it is also not done with a frequency or bluntness that would make it feel tiresome. By the time the film reaches its conclusion, there’s a sudden shift that feels natural and accepted. Which makes its impact that much stronger.
I found myself really loving the maternal presence in Prevenge, even if it is sometimes undercut by the constant knowledge of murder. It allows for a lesser-explored subject to be handled in a very unique manner. Alice Lowe is also a marvel in the starring role and has a presence that fits perfectly for the genre and the heavy subject matter she wants to engage with. For all of Ruth’s struggles, the movie manages to provide a poignancy through her difficult situation that is exacerbated by the promise of vengeance.
- Alice Lowe is great as a vengeful, expecting mother
- Plenty of laughs from dark situations
- An excellent and unique exploration of maternal fears
- Promise of murder undercuts the film's tension
- Some scenes have too much or too little explanation for why they end the way they do