Prevenge review

Alice Lowe makes her directorial debut with the excellent pregnancy revenge film, Prevenge. Here's our review...

As the star and co-writer of 2012 horror-comedy Sightseers, Alice Lowe established herself as one of the UK’s most interesting cinematic talents. This year, Lowe makes good on that promise, returning to screens with her debut directorial outing: pregnancy revenge-flick Prevenge.

Lowe also stars in the movie as Ruth, an expectant single mother who has a score to settle with society. Driven by her unborn child – or at least, her unborn child’s voice – Ruth is compelled to commit murder upon murder in what amounts to a pitch-dark but keenly-observed look at the experience of pregnancy in a society that condescends to pregnant women.

While Prevenge is less openly comedic than Sightseers, it treads a similar line, melding the brutal and banal, and wielding a similar set of satirical jaws – though in this case, perhaps with a little more compassion. Ruth’s victims mostly comprise those who shun parenthood (child-loathing manchildren; anti-mother careerists) and are given no sympathy for their selfishness, but the film isn’t so nihilistic as to assume everyone’s a monster.

For instance, a sharply-observed midwife (Eddie The Eagle’s Jo Hartley) is the butt of some early laughs with her chirpy over-familiarity, but is later developed into a more three-dimensional figure – she is, after all, there to help. As it is, the tone of Prevenge walks a difficult balancing act. As if replicating the experience of pregnancy, it shifts seamlessly between conflicting emotions.

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Still, it does want to make you laugh (and succeeds) but the grim, inevitability of its pace makes no concessions to comedy. Ruth’s psychosis cannot be halted, her depression will not crack, and ‘baby’ is coming, no matter how she appeases it. This is a film that strips pregnancy of its sentimental trappings and instead opts to portray a more interior reality: it’s hard, and it’s scary, and if you’ve been through it (or been close to someone who has) it’s all grimly familiar.

Although it could be read as a film about a serial killer, it’s not overly concerned with the practical aspects – there’s no cop on her tail, for instance. Despite this, Lowe’s character assumes a wealth of identities throughout the film, going undercover to commit her murders. She’s covering her tracks, sure, but it also serves to emphasise that her treatment isn’t just that of a pregnant woman – it’s all pregnant women, to some degree. Rich, poor, old, young, educated and uneducated. In that way it’s incredibly empathetic.

At the heart of the script is the question of Ruth’s motivations, and the script teases us with possible explanations all the way through. Is she targeting a specific type of misogynist? Are these killings ritualistic? Is it righteous fury driving her? The truth is gradually assembled, giving you something to puzzle over after every encounter with her victims.

Both writing and acting may be on point, but that doesn’t mean there’s any slack given to the visual direction either. With one particular moment during a sexual encounter, Lowe uses the language of horror cinema to deliver the film’s purest, heartiest laugh. Elsewhere, Lowe’s final act transformation into makes clear the extent of her troubled mental state. At one point, Ruth’s outfit – a black, fur-lined parka, hood up – sees her stalking the screen like an image of death.

All that said, there’s a sense that ultimately things don’t go quite far enough. Ruth never really comes to term (no pun intended) with the effect her pregnancy has on her, while the voice of her baby could stand to be more present and developed, especially during the film’s latter half. Given the intensity of most pregnancies – first ones in particular – it seems to hold off just when it should be reaching its climax and the catharsis comes almost too soon.

Maybe that’s sort of the point. Pregnancies don’t necessarily wait until you’re ready to be over – they just suddenly are. If the film’s ending seems to struggle to tie its plots together, it could be argued that Ruth’s new life has simply made her old one irrelevant. Whatever your take on its ending (and you’re sure to have one) Prevenge is dark and thought-provoking, yet sensitive, and establishes Lowe as a strong directorial voice who surely has even better things ahead.

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Prevenge arrives in UK cinemas on 10th February.

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4 out of 5