A case of in utero homicide, Prevenge comes born of triple-threat Alice Lowe’s fertile but twisted mind. Taking duties as writer, director and star in this slop-rock ballad of killer prepartum impulses, Lowe weaves her story of a knocked up avenging angel in the strangest of circumstances. Pregnant at 37, art found itself mimicking reality (to a degree) as Lowe put pen to paper to stitch together a one-page pitch early in her first trimester.
The idea is simple enough: a pregnant widow goes on a killing spree, egged on by the malevolent fetus growing inside her. To Lowe’s surprise, the pitch was almost immediately given the green light and after her originally proposed director deemed the material too dark, she found herself and her bloated belly behind the camera, compiling what would be her directorial debut. “It wasn’t part of the plan to direct while pregnant,” Lowe admits, but I doubt she would argue the nasty subtext it adds to the whole endeavor.
Prevenge doesn’t mark Lowe’s first writing gig. That distinction goes to the Ben Wheatley directed Sightseers, a happy-go-lucky road trip movie where a new couple politely execute vacationers. Both endeavors marry jet black humor to British apologism, poking fun at the heritage of the overly amicable and then slicing down the unsuspecting audience with crimson guffaws.
Unsurprisingly, horror veteran Wheatley is better at balancing the perkily murderous tone, unearthing a wealth of visual comedy in the stark contrast of right and wrong. But while Lowe definitely takes lessons from her previous director, her film revels less in the celebration of violence, making it distinctly darker in manner and, considering both films center on protagonists slaughtering their way through innocent folk, less fun as well.
As a moral meditation, Prevenge exists sans ordinary values. Whereas Sightseers’ dreamy account of murder as love saw ultimate comeuppance, Prevenge seems content chucking any moral center out with the bath water. Ruth lives in a world lacking consequence, where she and her swollen stomach can slip out the cat-door of a murder scene with the police knocking down the door and not fear repercussions of any sort.
In that sense, Prevenge’s view of England is almost otherworldly. Like living in a social experiment where good and God are dead. The streets as lawless and unfazed as in those dreaded Purge films. As Ruth smashes in the head of a businesswoman (Kate Dickie) at her office, castrates a pushy pig of a DJ (Tom Davis) in front of his amnesic mother or crumbles the skull of some unknown victim after sharing a friendly dinner with his brother, Prevenge toys with the notion that revenge is a dish best served clumsily. No matter the blood trail leading directly to her doorstep, Ruth fears social services moreso than any bumbling police force come knocking.
Right from the get-go, Ruth is steadfast in her motives. At a pet shop to nick a man’s neck, Ruth has already become a vessel for twisted deliverance, basking in the disorienting aftershock of grief. To any and all who may have been involved in her husband’s tragic rock climbing accident, she is the knife in the dark. Whomever left her fetus fatherless shall suffer his fate, and the baby, a disembodied voice that sounds a lot like Die Antwoord’s Yolandi Visser, pushes her murderous agenda from the confines of the womb.
Here the film falters, as the baby-to-be’s grim outlook on life – obviously a reflection of Ruth’s waning sanity – arrives like a swat on the nose. “People think babies are sweet, but I’m bitter,” she drones platitudes. Ruth makes astute but familiar maternal observations a la her handing herself over as a “human sacrifice” to the will of her children. Her struggle is pertinent, particularly for the pregnant, but fails to become richer over the course of Prevenge‘s running time. The satire is thin yet effective, but with a straightforward plot that fails to journey beyond its path of nasty slayings, Prevenge remains a fair idea bogged down in middling execution.
CONCLUSION: Alice Lowe, who wrote, directed and starred in ‘Prevenge’, is onto something in this amoral celebration of non-maternal instincts but her debut doesn’t have enough storytelling snap, innovative gore or fine-tuned finesse to elevate the material beyond their interesting roots o truly memorable levels.