Director: Alice Lowe
Writer: Alice Lowe
Producer: Vaughan Sivell, Jennifer Handorf, Will Kane
Stars: Alice Lowe, Dan Renton Skinner, Jo Hartley, Tom Davis, Leila Hoffman, Kate Dickie, Kayvan Novak, Mike Wozniak, Tom Meeten, Marc Bessant, Gemma Whelan
Believing that the voice in her head is her unborn baby driving her to kill, a pregnant widow goes on a murderous rampage.
Many expectant mothers feel like they can communicate with their unborn babies, though Ruth’s situation is a special case. The daughter incubating in Ruth’s womb literally speaks in Ruth’s mind, at least that’s what Ruth thinks, and that tiny child’s voice is commanding her to kill.
Ruth went into a spiral of depression after the unexpected death of her husband Matt. Ruth’s warped worldview has only worsened since. Driven by feelings of oppression, repression, and marginalization, Ruth now keeps a kill list of everyone she blames for the boots on her neck.
In between prenatal checkups and yoga meditation sessions, Ruth makes sure to take time for homicide. Whenever she starts sliding back into sanity by thinking knives to throats won’t ease her emotions, she has an unlikely partner in crime in her belly and in her head issuing pep talks promoting more murder.
From its premise, “Prevenge” probably sounds like a madcap romp of bonkers black comedy dressed up as a satirical slasher film. Only the back half of that assumption is accurate. “Prevenge” is more of an arthouse character study whose hints of humor contribute subtly to its quirk factor as undertones. Overtones are actually covered by wry commentary.
Ruth’s rampage initially takes exclusive aim at a certain sort of obstacle to empowerment. A pet store proprietor thick with innuendos about stroking his snake is first to feel Ruth’s blade. Sleazy DJ Dan, who presumes he can have his way with Ruth after mistaking her for a desperately sex-starved fat woman, takes the second spot as another top target.
Ruth’s itinerary appears to be honed in on stereotypes of chauvinist misogyny, yet it turns out she doesn’t discriminate against women. A prospective female employer delivering a lecture on tabling maternal ambitions in favor of career goals, instead of conducting the job interview Ruth came for, finds her face meeting a conference room table when Ruth decides she has endured enough of the commonplace corporate claptrap.
The connection is clear regarding conceptions “Prevenge” means to challenge about motherhood. Society says the bulge in a single mother’s belly is a bullseye for perverted predators as well as a burden for the office world and beyond. For Ruth, it’s exactly the inspiration she needed to go from passive passenger in her own average life to an assertive aggressor righting wrongs through revenge.
Before being bogged down by subtext, “Prevenge” balances its tone with comic swaths focused more on taking the piss out of preconceptions than on chiding them over issues of inequality. It’s fitting that writer/director/star Alice Lowe is familiar to those who saw her in Ben Wheatley’s “Sightseers” (review here), as that film is an A+ comparison regarding the similar style in play here.
“Prevenge” employs the kind of dry comedy achieved through simple static shots capturing sullen reactions on staid faces. “Prevenge” is a ‘plain’ sort of movie, and that is meant positively. There’s honesty in its simplicity about grounding an outrageous idea in a working class reality that works well for relaying a sly message through entertainment.
“Prevenge” shot quickly during Alice Lowe’s real-life third trimester and the resulting run-and-gun guerrilla filmmaking translates to some technical trouble. Most notably, the camera, whose handheld shakiness is worse than many “found footage” movies, has a fixed focus problem. The lens doesn’t appear to be on auto, but characters and objects frequently lean into or away from their marks. Shots then go soft, causing frequent distractions for anyone with an aversion to blurriness.
A murder movie with a mild mix of mumblecore, “Prevenge” is unique among humorous horror films for having a pregnant protagonist and a cheeky angle on what that entails when she is also the antagonist. Starting from what at first looks like a politicized position, secondary content that might be off-putting to some eventually stands aside for killings to become more about silly situations than presumed preachiness.
On the whole, “Prevenge” takes some lumps from sourcing its soul in indie introspection that scales back the scope. But the melancholy mood and offbeat setup provide a flavor for societal cynicism not soon to be found in many, if any, other films.
Review Score: 70