It’s hard to comprehend how Alice Lowe’s PREVENGE was made, let alone the fact that it’s a smart, darkly funny slasher film. Filmed in just under a two week period while Ms. Lowe was seven and a half months pregnant, the British actress pulled off the added duties of writing and directing her first feature. The result is an accomplished, droll and blood curling slasher film that marked the best festival opener for the Boston Underground Film Festival since Hobo With A Shotgun.
Lowe stars as Ruth, our soon-to-be single mother hellbent on extracting revenge on the persons she holds responsible for her partner’s accidental death. She has a running dialogue with the infant growing inside her belly, and the cutesy, little girl voice tells her momma that the others have to pay with their lives in the bloodiest ways possible.
In some regards Ruth’s condition helps rather than hinders her thirst for revenge. Her last stages of pregnancy condition disarms anyone she comes into contact with, even when she reveals her true nature. After one victim socks Ruth in the gut in an act of self defense, she is overwhelmed with guilt. Her attempt to help Ruth to her feet finds her getting disemboweled for her efforts.
Lowe’s script alternates between savagely funny and heartbreaking, often within the same scene. Lowe packs the dialogue with quips that cut characters down and put them in their place. PREVENGE often uses humor in the build up to its most violent moments, and it catches the audience off guard, and makes the horror of Ruth’s quest all the more shocking. Lowe delivers many of her lines with a detached sense of irony similar to Kristen Wiig.
One of the more welcome components of Lowe’s script is the way it humanize the victims. Sure the first two men-a lecherous pet shop clerk and a date rapist waiting to happen-seem to get their just desserts. However as Ruth continues down her trail, Lowe reveals more about the event that took her partner’s life and the guilt the survivors carried. On top of that Lowe takes the time to put the fears, the hopes and the sometimes agonizing loneliness each of the characters suffer. In the span of one brief dialogue, Kate Dickie transforms a cold hearted Human Resources staffer into someone you can’t help but feel for. Her “Ella” may be on the list, but far from a human monster, she’s just a lonely woman covering her fear of being alone with thrill seeking and endless hours in the job. It’s not just the fact that Ruth murders this woman, but the way she mocks her victim as she bleeds out that reveals a cruelty her character. Another victim happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, even after he shows the woman kindness and charity. There are levels to the victims in PREVENGE absent from most of this kind of genre fare.
Lowe also displays a keen eye for visual flair and drama. Her “kill shot” for Ella’s death is outstanding as the camera moves under a glass table in order to catch the life pouring out of the victim in vivid detail. It’s a dramatic, visceral image that undercuts the light verbal banter which had preceded it.
PREVENGE offers a space for Lowe to contemplate motherhood and the ways that role will change the way she views herself and how others will look at her. A recurring theme throughout the film is doing what’s “best for the baby” without ever asking what is best for Ruth. Her midwife cheerily presses Ruth to remove all distraction and sense of self as if the woman is nothing more than a walking, breathing pod meant to spawn new life. Through her internal conversations with the fetus, Ruth believes her homicidal rampage is what her baby wants, not something born out of her own desires and overwhelming conflation of grief, loss and anger. Prevenge offers up an examination of how women are expected to give up their individual identities in order to exist for the sole purpose of being caregivers and life bringers once they are with child.
After opening up the festivities at this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival, PREVENGE is now available for subscribers to the Shudder streaming service. It’s original content like this that makes the network a tremendous value. Ms. Lowe continues to be an exciting voice for modern independent genre films and I can’t wait to see what her follow up will be. I’m booting that she decides to take down a screaming bunch of toddlers hopped up on sugar and The Wiggles at a child’s birthday party gone south.