Prevenge review: Alice Lowe’s broody slasher satire

Look who’s stalking: director-star Alice Lowe lets it all hang out as a psycho mum-to-be in this wicked send-up of pregnancy mores.

Michael Leader

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Prevenge (2016)

Perhaps best known previously for starring in and co-writing director Ben Wheatley’s killer caravanning comedy Sightseers, Alice Lowe births her own blackly comic gem with this assured and accomplished feature debut – which she wrote, directed and starred in while over seven months pregnant. That last detail is key: taking Method preparation to a new extreme, Lowe plays Ruth, a heavily pregnant and recently bereaved woman, whose nascent mother-child connection with her unborn baby turns troublesome when the kid starts coaxing her to kill.

Similar in texture if not tone to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, Prevenge turns the ‘demonic pregnancy’ trope (a tendency within typically male-dominated horror filmmaking to frame this most natural part of the female experience as something inhuman) on its head. At the heart of the film is a deeply-felt and authentic insight into soon-to-be motherhood – albeit filtered through Lowe’s ear for the meticulous rhythms, euphemistic small talk and banal politeness of British vernacular. Her deft dialogue dissects the rhetoric around pregnancy, finding dark humour in the patronising niceties and empty advice (“Baby will tell you what to do… Baby knows best”) that experts both medically-trained and self-appointed give prospective parents.

The characters that Ruth encounters over the course of her spree play on the ways society pigeon-holes and prejudges pregnant women. Each are played by welcome and recognisable British character actors, often to scene-stealing effect, as with a professionally child-free businesswoman (The Witch’s Kate Dickie), a reassuring yet ultimately ineffectual midwife (This Is England’s Jo Hartley) and a slimy, self-styled ladies’ man called DJ Dan (Tom Davis), whose punishment for his untoward advances is particularly wince-inducing.

Prevenge (2016)

A feminist, score-settling slasher with a satirical edge, then? Certainly. But while Prevenge delivers cult thrills and devilish humour, Lowe is adept at probing the existential darkness of her protagonist – a woman discombobulated by her condition, as she mourns for a life lost while giving herself over to the life to come. However, all the while, there is a glint in her eye – a thrill, no doubt shared by Lowe, of subverting expectations, of stepping out from behind the sanctified image of the glowing mum-to-be, and embracing a transgressive madness.

Prevenge puts Alice Lowe at the forefront of a small wave of exciting British filmmakers who have moved behind the camera after appearing in front of it in the films of Ben Wheatley – alongside Sightseers co-writer/co-star Steve Oram (Aaaaaaaah!) and Kill List’s Gareth Tunley, whose psychological drama The Ghoul counts Lowe among its cast, and like Prevenge screens at the London Film Festival in October. A new generation of smart, genre-savvy directors has come to term.


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