While many films show the downs of pregnancy as well as the ups, there are few that portray it as being downright horrifying – of the fear of being unable to control your body because of something else inside of you. Alice Lowe’s Prevenge (2016) takes this idea in a literal sense and runs with it, in a darkly comic film about a heavily pregnant mother sent on a murderous rampage by her unborn. But you have to do “what’s best for baby”, right?
Similar to Lowe’s screenplay for Sightseers (2012) (which she wrote with Steve Oram), Prevenge takes elements of horror, comedy and drama, and throws them all in a blender until we get the end result: a twisted take on pregnancy that follows mum-to-be Ruth (played by Lowe herself) whose life is already being controlled by her baby before it is even born. Except this malevolent child craves more than just food, telling Ruth (in shrill voiceover) to kill anyone who gets in their way. Despite this almost supernatural element to the story though, Prevenge is a surprisingly realistic take on all things maternal, particularly due to the mix of genres Lowe chooses to use. Not only do these serve to keep the film gripping, ever-switching to keep us on our toes, they also create incredible tonal shifts throughout such as humour, rage, and pathos – all changes that perfectly reflect the rollercoaster ride that is pregnancy.
The more obvious reason behind this realism however is down to the fact that Lowe herself was pregnant at the time of filming, something that adds gravitas to her role, but also a rarely portrayed, direct viewpoint into her character’s situation. Your hormones going crazy, your body literally changing before your eyes – Lowe takes all the insecurities of this time and isn’t afraid to tackle them head on, albeit via the route of murder. This leads to an unexpected poignancy to proceedings throughout, particularly when Lowe reveals just why Ruth is being driven to kill (a backstory that works well as a pleasing mystery to the overall plot).
Lowe is keen to show both sides of the coin in her screenplay though, discussing the joys of motherhood as much as the bad, and focusing on the laughs even if they are sometimes found in the grimmest of moments. A superb ensemble cast also keeps the comedy rolling throughout Prevenge, one of the highlights being the brilliant Jo Hartley as a midwife who is a little too positive about childbirth for Ruth’s liking. Lowe and Hartley also make an excellent comic pair onscreen, Lowe’s dry, dark performance working perfectly alongside Hartley’s more buoyant one. Yet when those more sorrowful parts of the narrative do begin to emerge, both convince in these moments just as much as the comedic scenes.
While many will compare this to Lowe’s Sightseers, Prevenge is a whole new and original beast, something achieved through her candid storytelling approach as much as the more fantastical elements she uses. A groundbreaking production with a fascinating portrayal of a female character rarely seen on film, Lowe’s feature directorial debut is funny, dark and surprisingly sad, and driven by an outstanding central performance in which Lowe is able to squeeze humour from the gloomiest of moments, as well as a tear or two at the same time. The story might be simple, but what drives Prevenge to greater heights is its message: that sometimes motherhood is hard, and it’s ok to admit that.