Still courtesy of Kaleidoscope Entertainment
Actress Alice Lowe was seven months pregnant when she filmed her directorial debut, Prevenge and took the leading role. It is the film’s raison d’être. Lowe shows off her baby bump at every available opportunity, even in the bath. It gives the film a unique selling point, but also a challenge. Lowe couldn’t exactly do re-shoots. Moreover, as directing a film is an exhausting experience even without being pregnant at the same time and appearing in every scene, Lowe could not film it over an extensive period – instead, shooting took place over 13 days,
The plot is simple. After her boyfriend Matt (Marc Bessant) dies during a climbing trip – his fellow climbers having elected to cut the rope - heavily-pregnant Ruth (Lowe) goes on a killing spree, murdering those who made the decision and believing that her unborn child is telling her to act.
However, the film has a rather large flaw. If there is a series of random murders across London and Cardiff, linked by the victims all having taken part in a climbing trip off the Pembrokeshire coast, don’t you think that once the police made the connection, they would (a) give protection to those not yet knocked off and (b) get in touch with both Matt’s family as well as Ruth herself?
If you can forgive this, and you haven’t read any reviews or seen the poster - pregnant woman shows off both her bump and a carving knife - you might enjoy the opening. It cross-cuts between Ruth in her garden and her visiting an exotic pet store run by Mr Zabek (Dan Renton Skinner). Ruth says she is buying a pet for her eight year old son. A snake, two lizards (‘they’re a couple, a pair’ hisses Mr Z) and several spiders are on display. We are unsettled by the attention Zabek gives to her. Then, as he shows her his private collection, Ruth strikes! We next see her burning her clothes and taking a train. She has a sketch book that she keeps like a journal, with a page featuring drawings of her victims and an unborn baby talking to her. She’s a good artist.
Write what you know
Inspired by her own pregnancy to make the film – you make your first film based on what you know, so murder might be a metaphor for the munchies – Lowe goes for naturalistic social satire, attacking men and women who are respectively boorish, frigid, overly familiar, a bit of a hipster, somewhat patronising and who use exercise as a form of over-worthy narcissism. Lowe knows her horror films, so she varies each of Ruth’s attacks. In one case, a large souvenir bust is used; that will teach them for buying tourist tat! The plot alternates murders with visits to the midwife (Jo Hartley) – she’s the over-familiar one, who suggests referring Ruth to social services, much to Ruth’s horror.
Gallery of grotesques
We are meant to have some sympathy for Ruth. Her victims are grotesques.
DJ Dan (Tom Davis) is a balding, gap-toothed full-of-himself would-be ‘player’ with no time for kids who allows Ruth to chat him up then buys shots for two girls at the bar in order to spread his options. In the taxi back to his house, he vomits into his wig before kissing Ruth. As Ruth dances with Dan, we see tears roll down her eyes: she is reminded that she was once held by someone she loved. Indeed, her attack on Dan is interrupted by Dan’s mother (Leila Hoffman) who notices the stain. (‘That’ll be hard to get out.)
Ella (Kate Dickie) is a workaholic solicitor who decides not to offer Ruth a job because of her pregnancy - they face each other at either end of a long board room table. She describes a ‘cutthroat world’, words Ruth throws back at her.
We don’t know much about Zac (Tom Meeten) – Ruth spends most of her time talking to his thoroughly nice, decent and sensitive house mate, Josh (Mike Wozniak) who invites her to taste an anchovy (Ruth: ‘why is it hairy?’) and offers her dinner. Ruth’s unborn child dismisses Josh as a hipster.
Tom (Kayvan Novak) is the climbing instructor who is hardest to kill – Ruth can’t get him alone.
Len (Gemma Whelan) has no time for Ruth when she turns up collecting for a charity. She makes the mistake of letting Ruth in, noticing her belly (‘do you have a bathroom?’ ‘Of course, I have a bathroom’). There is a terrific reveal when Ruth enters Len’s living room, though it leads to a moment that makes you wince.
The murder scenes are all self-contained. There are no plot twists, although there are unexpected interruptions, not just by DJ Dan’s mother, whom Ruth tucks up in bed and offers hot chocolate, and a revelation towards the end that re-frames Ruth’s murderous obsession.
The humour is fairly coarse. As Ruth lies on a hotel bed, the room starts to shake. ‘That’s how I was made,’ says Ruth’s womb tenant. The scenes have an air of improvisation attached to increase the feeling of naturalism, though the violence is choreographed for the safety of mother and unborn child.
I don’t want to be stuck indoors
Whilst there is some skill and craft evident in individual scenes, Prevenge comes across as rushed - something to occupy Lowe whilst she was pregnant. (I can imagine the conversation: ‘I don’t want to be stuck indoors; let’s make a film.’) Nevertheless, Lowe demonstrates that women can direct movies whilst pregnant, with all that entails - problem solving, coaxing good performances from her cast. So an advanced state of pregnancy is not a barrier to creativity. You wonder though how she got insurance; I wonder whether the production avoided production insurance altogether. Just think of all the exotic pets, a scene on the top of a cliff, and so on.
Even with the social satire, Prevenge is a one-idea movie, stretched to water-breaking point and locked in a single position. I would not go so far as one viewer did, shouting ‘rubbish’ at the end of the film, but I partially sympathised.
The Halloween make up that Lowe wears at the climax is brilliant. The film features a discourse on cord cutting and skin slicing; the necessity of a Caesarian. Is it worth the price of admission? It should appeal to ‘evil child’ movie completists – fans of The Omen, Children of the Damned and Rosemary’s Baby. It would be great as the first half of a double bill – perhaps with Kill Bill Vol 1. The John Carpenter-style retro music is by Toydrum.
Reviewed at Cineworld West India Quay, Screen Three, Saturday 11 February 2017, 13:50 screening