Synopsis: A pregnant woman exacts revenge after a traumatic event. (Source)
“I think nature’s a bit of a c*nt, though, don’t you?” That stinging statement comes from Prevenge’s beleaguered anti-heroine Ruth, and it’s what best describes director/star Alice Lowe’s story of gleeful absurdity and deep pain. With her debut feature, the long-time writer and comedienne combines an unlikely mixture of emotions, contrasting the hope and tenderness of childbirth with some really dark, nasty subtext. It makes for a unique revenge thriller with real bite, one that explores the ties between life, death and forgiveness. Lowe is also captivating as the film’s lead, arming her troubled character with piercing torment and deadpan wit. She also proves confident and assured behind the camera, navigating heady ideas with stylish aplomb and a surreal rush of dark catharsis.
When we first meet Ruth (Alice Lowe), she’s at a reptile store. A thick atmosphere of unease permeates the scene as close-ups of iguanas, spiders, snakes and other icky creatures interject her inquiries with the store’s upbeat employee, asking his advice on what he thinks would be a good gift for her child. Her pretense turns out to be false, however, and when the opportunity arises, she brutally slices the man’s neck open and leaves him for dead. From there, Ruth begins to receive soothing assurances from her unborn child (voiced by a playful Della Moon Synnott), telling her that it’ll only get easier from here on out. As it turns out Ruth is on specific mission, hunting down a seemingly disparate group of people who may be tied to the same tragedy. As she goes down a list of unwitting victims, the baby within her begins to take over – its initially cute gibberish turns into sinister commands. With a body that she no longer understands and a head full of confusion, Ruth reluctantly turns into a twisted avenging angel of sorts, spiraling into a dark world which may not hold any respite.
Centered around Ruth’s blossoming love for her unborn child and the progressively violent mystery behind her trauma, Lowe’s deft balance between black comedy, maternal fears and portrait of grief are as hypnotic as they are horrifying. In that way, the film satisfies on multiple levels, fully embracing its absurdity without betraying the darkness that lurks beneath the surface. It makes for a horror film that defies expectation at every turn, eschewing generic scares for sharp psychological horror, manifesting Ruth’s insecurity through violent retribution. Along the way, Lowe also addresses gender roles and perception, with Ruth’s victims each marginalizing her in various ways, pinpointing her pregnancy and gender as areas of weakness. When the film finally comes together and the bigger picture of Ruth’s plan is plain as day, Lowe has touched upon the apathy and misinformed fears that contribute to a self-absorbed, hurried society. Still, Lowe’s film remains emotional rich and devilishly entertaining, all while keeping a sly wink and its emotional truth.
Keeping everything centered is Lowe’s performance, as the meek, but strong-willed Ruth. Lowe channels all of the film’s diversity and tones through her performance, focusing its contrasting ideas through a haunted character who feels real and has a wicked sense of deadpan delivery. Lowe is charming and endearing, and as she goes down her dark, unforgiving path, makes us squirm with unease. Playing off her, Della Moon Synnott is great as Ruth’s unborn baby. Though she just provides a voice, she maintains a looming presence with her measured delivery, turning from cute to menacing at the flick of a switch and complimenting Lowe with a tandem performance. Jo Hartley as Ruth’s midwife is a scene stealer as well. She changes with each checkup, offering up a bubbly disposition and levity which turns to genuine concern as the truth is revealed about Ruth’s situation.
Prevenge is a breath of fresh air, a horror film that mines real fears with knock knock jokes, a pulsing synth score and oppressive atmosphere. You’ll hate yourself for laughing at some of its perversity, but its a welcomed kind of irreverence, addressing issues which are rarely talked about with this kind of flair. Ultimately, Lowe’s film is a nod to the mysteries of life – its ironies, the things that remain out of our grasp and how death makes way for life and vice versa.