Review: Prevenge (2016)

Ben has recently made reference to the on-going exploration of pregnancy in horror, and as a theme it certainly seems to be having a bit of a moment – from the last year or so, Shelley, Antibirth, and Prevenge have all tackled the issue, in quite different ways. Prevenge has perhaps been the most hotly-anticipated and highly-regarded of these films, at least in the UK, coming from accomplished comedy writer and actress Alice Lowe, making her feature film directorial debut.

What makes the debut all the more stunning is that Lowe directed – and starred in – the film while seven months pregnant herself. Impressive though that is from an endurance perspective, it also seems to have been quite vital to the success of the film thematically: a genuine portrayal of the psychological difficulties of pregnancy… with added murder.

The basic premise of the film is that Ruth (Alice Lowe) is seven months pregnant and traumatised by the recent loss of her husband. Desperately lonely, Ruth’s only company seems to be her unborn child, who speaks to Ruth from the womb and instructs her onto a bit of a murderous rampage. Ruth’s homicidal urges are at times tempered by visits to a sympathetic midwife (Jo Hartley), but very little gets in the way of the demands of Ruth’s baby.

The film is essentially a series of murder-sketches, strung together by scenes depicting Ruth’s unravelling mind or attempts at pre-natal normality. Some of the film’s biggest laughs come from the killer set-pieces, in which Lowe’s dark comedic talent seems at its most evident. Lowe’s performance in the film is superb, which, as anyone who’s ever seen her in, well, anything, would already know, and just further confirms what an excellent performer she is.

The film as a whole was, for me, a bit of a mixed bag – hugely entertaining, certainly, but uneven enough to rather distract from what was a very strong start. The balance of darkness and humour that kicks off the film is rather lost by its close, and as a result the real bite of the film is gone. That’s not to say a film can’t change its tone, but without the earlier humour I was left wanting – the driving narrative was a bit too thin, for me, by its close. The structure of the film didn’t help much either, given that Ruth is already murdering people from the get-go, and so it felt that there wasn’t very far for her character to go over the course of the film. Jo Hartley’s Midwife also starts the film off as a comic character, only to turn very serious nearer the film’s close. Perhaps this represents the changes in Ruth’s perception of the world around her, but to me it felt like uneven characterisation. I wasn’t overly fond of the use of Baby’s voice over, either – at times it worked, but at others it felt overdone and far too literal.

None of the film’s flaws are so prominent that I came away disliking the film, but I think given the huge amount of positive buzz around it, I did leave feeling just slightly disappointed. But, buzz is buzz and I can hardly blame the film itself for that – Prevenge is a strong feature debut that simply bears some marks of inexperience or other constraints. The production is marvellous, and makes excellent use of real-life settings – Cardiff night life has never looked more frightening, and that’s saying something – and actually I don’t think it belies its microbudget at all. Prevenge is a great achievement in indie filmmaking – both practically and thematically – and it bodes very, very well for what we might see from Lowe in the future.

Prevenge is in limited UK cinemas now.