While many films show the ups, downs, and general maternal glow of pregnancy, there are few that portray the fear of losing control over your own body thanks to the inhabitant within. Alice Lowe’s Prevenge (2016) takes this idea and runs/waddles with it, in a darkly comic film about a heavily pregnant mamma-to-be (Lowe) who is sent on murderous vengeance by her unborn. But as all those baby books tell you, you should do “what’s best for baby”...right?
Mixing together elements of horror, comedy and drama (similar to Lowe’s screenplay for Sightseers (2012) which she co-wrote with Steve Oram), Lowe's film is a twisted and unexpected take on pregnancy in which mum-to-be Ruth (played by Lowe herself) finds her life 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, with those mix of genres particularly effective. Not only do these serve to keep the film gripping, ever-switching to keep us on our toes, they also create incredible tonal (almost hormonal) shifts throughout, such as humour, murderous rage and pathos – all changes that perfectly reflect the rollercoaster ride that is pregnancy.
However the most obvious reason behind the film’s verisimilitude is the fact that Lowe was pregnant at the time of filming, something rarely seen onscreen and which adds gravitas to her role, as well as a direct viewpoint into some aspects of her character's situation. Lowe takes all the insecurities of this reportedly joyous time and isn’t afraid to tackle the issues - mood swings, your body body literally changing before your eyes - 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 incredibly well as a pleasing mystery within the overall plot).
Lowe is keen to show both sides of the coin in her screenplay however, 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, including Kate Dickie, Gemma Whelan, Tom Davis, Dan Renton Skinner, and Kayvan Novak keep the comedy rolling throughout Prevenge, with one of the highlights being the brilliant Jo Hartley as a midwife who is a little toopositive about childbirth for Ruth’s liking. Lowe and Hartley make an excellent comedy pairing onscreen, Lowe’s dry, dark performance working perfectly alongside Hartley’s more buoyant one. Yet when those 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, replete with a fascinating portrayal of a female character rarely seen on film, Lowe’s feature directorial debut is hilarious, 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 launches Prevenge to greater heights is its message: that sometimes the journey to motherhood, while ultimately rewarding, is bloody arduous. And it’s okay to admit that.