This bizarrely funny and moving directorial debut from Alice Lowe (who also wrote and stars) is tough to describe. ‘Prevenge’ is kind of a sick comedy twist on ‘Death Wish’, only with a very pregnant woman whose unborn child convinces her to commit murder.
Again, I can’t stress enough that the film is a comedy – and a pretty great one too, so long as your sense of humor is as depraved as the director’s.
Lowe stars as Ruth, a heavily pregnant woman (and indeed the actress was seven-and-a-half months pregnant during shooting, which should make this the world’s strangest family video someday) who opens the movie by killing a man in a pet store. We then slowly spend enough time with Ruth to realize that the baby inside her belly has started talking to her. Worryingly, the unborn infant demands murder, and murder the baby gets, including a bad DJ who vomits in his afro wig during one of Ruth’s seduce-and-destroy conquests. For a while, it seems like Ruth is hunting men. Then she shifts sexes, and it gradually becomes clear that there’s a method to her madness. The madness remains, but it has purpose – and not necessarily what it initially appears to be.
For anyone who has seen the film ‘Sightseers’, which Lowe co-wrote and starred in for director Ben Wheatley, the tone of ‘Prevenge’ should be easy to imagine. Lowe has very morbid sense of humor, pitched somewhere between gallows gore slapstick and bitter pain that can only be laughed at in self-defense. Unfortunately, ‘Prevenge’ doesn’t have quite as tight a screenplay as ‘Sightseers’.
The film often plays as dark sketch comedy linked tenuously by a final act that’s also its weakest passage. However, what the movie lacks in form and structure it more than makes up for in tone and style. Lowe might have a background in comedy as a writer/performer, but she also clearly has an affinity for horror. Her movie has a very eerie visual style derived from the subjective perspective of its deranged protagonist. Mundane street visuals take on a nightmarish aura and the soundtrack pushes viewers into the state of a fever dream. Laughs may come regularly, but the films looks and sounds like a vintage psychedelic Italian horror riff on ‘Taxi Driver’.
Despite the stylish and evocative visuals, Lowe plays her drama surprisingly grounded. She and her co-stars are all pitched somewhere between the embarrassingly pathetic fumblings of life and the stylized shtick of sketch comedy. Laughs pile up, but the world feels lived-in. The lead character is remarkably deranged and tragically empathetic, somehow striking a balance between a movie monster and a sadly discarded welfare case. It’s an impressive performance and at least tonally and thematically a brilliant bit of writing.
The mixture of shocks and laughs in ‘Prevenge’ never feels out of balance. The themes of the disturbing and unpredictable transformative nature of pregnancy work well. This is metaphor-laden horror/satire not far from Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’. Although pregnancy horror has been done before (‘Rosemary’s Baby’, obviously), something about the way that Lowe loses control and sanity to the unborn child in her belly carries a fresh thematic sting. It’s intriguing stuff, a thoughtfully funny, disturbing and oddly moving genre mishmash from a female perspective.
If Lowe’s second feature as writer and star isn’t as tight as her first, that’s likely because a genuine genius of a director handled ‘Sightseers’. For a first-time filmmaker, Lowe proves to be quite promising, and as a writer/actress she’s only getting better. There’s a very good chance that Lowe’s next feature could be something special. It’s unlikely that movie will be as surreally hilarious for her to watch with her family as this oddball ode to her newborn child, but for every other viewer, it’s likely that Alice Lowe’s best work is yet to come.