It’s never easy raising a child as a single parent, but for Ruth, seven months pregnant and alone, it is a particularly unforgiving brand of hell, finding out that she was expecting the day that the father-to-be died in a climbing accident. Worse, her unborn child is talking to her, persistent demands that Ruth kills all those who could be held responsible in any way for Matt’s death without any consideration for what plans she might have herself.
Conceived, written, directed by and starring Alice Lowe, Prevenge is as far from a vanity project as can be; underplayed but utterly convincing, Ruth is not a glamorous character, and despite being in almost every frame it is a controlled performance in a film which, while violent, bloody, shocking and inappropriately hilarious from the outset and at regular intervals thereafter is never exploitative or trashy, the gore unavoidable but never dwelt upon, Ruth killing for a purpose rather than for the sake of it.
The demonic pregnancy and the monstrous child are standards of horror, The Innocents, Children of the Damned, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and more recently The Babadook, but Prevenge is something quite different and unique, Lowe never asking for sympathy for Ruth or portraying her as a victim nor a target for condemnation, the calm demeanour beneath her conviction defying any Daily Mail label of outrage.
Unsentimental and unforgiving, Ryan Eddleston’s camera observes and chronicles but does not judge, the hazy, rainspattered lens capturing Ruth as she prowls under the streetlights in her fur-lined hooded jacket for her victims like a resentful and expectant Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin, but structured largely as a series of two-handers none of her targets, many of them former associates of Lowe from the comedy circuit, are short-changed in their death scenes.
“You have absolutely no control over your mind or body,” Ruth is told by her concerned midwife (This Is England‘s Jo Hartley) about the final stages of her pregnancy, an understatement given that she never questions the impulses of her unborn child or the actions it is driving her to. “Children are really spoiled these days,” Ruth moans. “Mummy I want a Playstation, mummy I want you to kill that man.”
Maternity wear is never flattering so it is no surprise when Ruth burns her bloodstained dress before making her way to the parade of awkward which is the seventies disco of DJ Dan (Murder inSuccessville‘s Tom Davis) where her glittering eye shadow is mixed with tears before she pays a visit to Matt’s climbing instructor Tom (Captcha‘s Kayvan Novak) then solicitor Ella (The Witch‘s Kate Dickie) who already had no life beyond the office, and when the monsters come out for Hallowe’en Ruth blends right in.
Like Sightseers which Lowe co-wrote and starred in with Steve Oram, it is a deeply British film, tied to the land from the bleak rocks of the Pembrokeshire coast which bookend the film to the grey streets of Cardiff, the mundane lives of the conventional people who see Ruth coming for them but never realise her purpose until it is too late, the incongruity of the supposed fragility of a pregnant woman wielding a carving knife.
With filming taking place over a period of two weeks when Lowe was herself heavily pregnant, despite the apparently slim premise Prevenge is consistently engaging and entertaining and an impressive feature debut from Lowe, and alongside Anna Biller’s soon-to-be-released The Love Witch this is shaping up to be an exciting year for women in horror both onscreen and behind the camera.
Prevenge is on general release from Friday 10th February