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.
Director: Alice Lowe
Writer: Alice Lowe
Starring: Alice Lowe, Jo Hartley, Tom Davis, Kayvan Novak, Gemma Whelan
Prevenge is, by the title alone, a worthy impulse watch. A pregnant woman is driven to kill by the voice of her unborn fetus? Sign me up! The good news is that Alice Lowe’s feature length directorial debut is both funny and unnerving, and she brings brilliant life to her own script in the title role, a task few have accomplished.
The film opens onto one of many awkward conversations between long-pregnant Ruth (Alice Lowe, The Mighty Boosh and Hot Fuzz) and a seemingly unknown stranger, whom Ruth brutally executes. Following a tear-sodden breakdown, Ruth returns to her generic hotel room, wherein she spends her nights. Soon enough, we hear little baby’s voice urging Ruth not just to kill again, but to kill better. As the film unfolds, it becomes clear that Ruth’s baby-daddy has died, and her newborn-to-be wants revenge on whoever may be responsible.
While the film acts as a revenge-whodunit, the real star here is Alice Lowe’s angst-ridden yet caustically witty Ruth, who manages to depict the lonely act of pregnancy with a lack of grace that just feels right. The script alternates flawlessly between offbeat bloody meetings and trivial day-to-day commonplaces, like prenatal yoga and a late-night telly viewing. This juxtaposition allows the movie to delve headlong into character-building much better than the common slasher flick allows, and makes the occasional violence stand out in far-starker contrast.
The film itself seems to draw subtle separation between its homicidal moments and its normal ones visually, as well as thematically—scenes of menial doldrums are sterile, white and clinical, while scenes of tension and passion are redder, warmer and faster. The whole shebang feels well produced, which is astounding given the film’s 11 day shooting time, and the fact that Lowe made the picture because she was seven months pregnant and unable to get cast elsewhere. That latter point seems to have flavored Prevenge beneficially; much like Alice, Ruth makes things happen because the alternative is nothingness, a lack of purpose.
The supporting cast consists primarily of victims, who all play their parts well, particularly comedian Tim Davis (Jekyll & Hyde 2015, Paddington 2) as the slovenly creep “DJ” Dan, and Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones), who nails her comic scene of home invasion deftly. Jo Hartley (When the Lights Went Out), who plays Ruth’s supportive midwife, does a fine job as the straight (wo)man in the room, who may be doing the wrong thing by being a good person. Kayvan Novak (Thunderbirds are Go! 2015, Skins U.K.) is around for the penultimate showdown between Ruth and her demons, and keeps his character appropriately level-headed in the face of madness.
The soundtrack here works to enhance the film in the best ways; the orchestral tracks call to modern suspense films with ambient noise and barely-there melodies, while the licensed tracks are expertly chosen mood-music for their accompanying scenes. Likewise, the borrowed scenes from the 1934 Claude Rains’ movie Crime Without Passion, where a man is haunted after murdering his wife, alternate between diegetic and non-diegetic flashes that conjure thoughts of the Greek Furies, hence personifying Ruth as an unstoppable force of retribution. Filmmakers take note, this movie has a trippy ending that works due to an effective use of subtext. It’s not an easy feat, and Alice Lowe pulls it off like a seasoned pro.
While it’s not the mindless slasher romp the silly premise could promise, Prevenge is an intelligent and entertaining indie flick that doesn’t feel all that indie. The script, casting, and lead deliver on every level, and the film comes off as both a message on the female dilemma of impending motherhood, and the social confines we put on pregnancy. Watch the movie, and just try not to apply the words of Shakespeare’s Cleopatra to womanhood: “We have no friend but resolution and the briefest end,” (Anthony and Cleopatra, 1607).