Despite what might be implied by its title, Prevenge will still no doubt present something unexpected to most: the first pregnant serial killer the big screen has ever seen. Gore, horror and psychopathy meet the viewer through a deadpan, blacker than coal, comedic lens.
Of all the strange compulsions known to blight a woman with child, Ruth is “killing for two” as she embarks on a homicidal rampage to avenge the tragic death of her partner in a climbing accident. Egged on by the foul-mouthed voice of her foetus, society is held to account for her baby’s lack of a father, while Ruth confronts her own loss of identity, control of her body and a heavy dose of prepartum psychosis.
Written, directed and starring Alice Lowe, herself seven-and-half months pregnant at the time of shooting, it’s not only the film’s story that’s unique but its telling. First and foremost, Prevenge is supremely visual, piercing the viewer with images that evoke squeamishness, literally and metaphorically, lulling them to get behind a female pregnant protagonist capable of ruthless murder.
Stripped-back realism takes us into mundane interiors: living rooms, a clinical boardroom, a depressingly dead club. Arresting images hold moments of poignancy as well as spoof-like horror: flashbacks to a severed climbing rope hanging loose on a cliff face; tarantulas, lizards and creepy crawlies from Mr Zabek’s shop haunting Ruth’s mind; and the protagonist’s striking silhouette, her bump showing through a flowing red dress as she makes her way through graffitied subways and dim-lit high streets in ghoulish Halloween makeup, blade held casually at her side. And like any slasher movie worth its salt, Prevenge is visceral and raw in its candid display of cut throats, stabbed eyes, splattered brains and dismembered appendages. Though the real horror comes in studying Ruth’s alternately crazed and psychopathically cold expressions as she chatters through her killing spree.
A Britishly dry script and some brilliant casting ensure the comedic elements land: Joe Hartley as the unshakeably chirpy midwife, Kayvan Novak (aka Fonejacker) as the shady climbing instructor, Tom Davis as virtually snorting, vomiting DJ Dan, Gemma Whelan as the no-nonsense fitness freak, Kate Dickie as sneeringly corporate Ella and Mike Wozniak revealing a rare glimpse of kindness and humanity as Josh. But it’s Alice Lowe who carries the tone of the film as Ruth, turning our expectations of a pregnant woman – “vulnerability, fragility, hormonal excess” – on their head to become empowering strengths, Ruth’s reply to “you’re insane” is simply, “I am a working mother”. Through her we see this character become the ultimate victim, her wellbeing and actions at the mercy of the life growing inside her, as well as our unlikely heroine as she takes her revenge on the “selfish bastards” we feel inclined to believe might just deserve it.
Lowe’s feature debut is British black comedy at its best, darkly subverting ideas of motherhood, the onscreen heroine and the male-dominated genre of gore all in one audiovisual feast.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 6th February 2017.
Prevenge is released nationwide on 10th February 2017.
Watch the trailer for Prevenge here: