Words by Ed King
“I think I’m changing into something else… it’s because of you.”
It’s cold. Scratch that. It’s fucking cold. Apologies; extreme conditions bring out the worst in me. The only thing tempering my murderous intent is the thought of comfort once I get to the Mockingbird – to watch the first Birmingham screening of Prevenge. I was not made for the cold. And God loves a cinema you can eat burgers and drink beer in.
Prevenge is the feature film directorial debut from Alice Lowe – the Godiva bum and bomb crater born writer/actress who co-penned Sightseers, Ben Wheatley’s disturbing black comedy about love, loyalty and caravanning.
Picking her way through the burdens of pregnancy, Prevenge follows a single central character – Ruth (played by Lowe) – as she prepares her nest by killing apparent strangers, all at the subconscious behest of her unborn daughter. As the narrative evolves we see more method in this madness. But as the ever cloying midwife explains, played beautifully by Jo Hartley, “baby knows what to do, baby will tell you what to do. It’s just nature’s way”.
Wasting little time in her sophomore film script (it took nearly halfway through Sightseers until we saw blood) Lowe/Ruth’s first victim is a creepy pet store owner, who’s obsession with showing off the darker side of nature gets him killed before the opening credits.
The next one of ‘Baby’s First Steps’, the macabre baby book that Ruth is filling with memories, is the beer bellied, tongue flicking DJ Dan – who is just as date rape as he sounds. Miserable, yes. Deserving, possibly. But at his most…. exposed moment, the demise of this sad middle aged man-boy got a cheer from the audience behind me. I’ll leave that with you; see the film and make your own mind up.
The following murders are increasingly related, as the past that propels Ruth becomes both more posthumous and alive. And there are some truly exquisite moments. In the space of a one sided job interview, Alice Lowe explores the power struggle of employment, career focused self deprecation, faux feminism, faux solidarity, and how to murder someone with Kill Bill chic. Puns withstanding, the passive aggressive power play across a cold boardroom table is simply wonderful stuff.
As with Sighteers the premise for Prevenge could have easily got stuck – relying on the one trick pony of personal eugenics and selling itself in ten words or less. Pregnant serial killer. Now where’s my funding.
But there’s more to Prevenge than that, perhaps even too much, as the script takes a more serious look at the objectification of pregnancy, the brutality/reality of nature and the disappearing voice of a quickly forgotten host.
Ruth is continuously told and not asked, with her body becoming the vehicle for something that should be tacitly allowed to control and consumer her; she is both governed by and governor of the creature inside her. But Ruth is also desperate to love and be loved, to escape the painful past that haunts her future. Even if it takes a few blunted kitchen knives to wipe the slate clean.
Alice Lowe’s portrayal of Ruth (Lowe once again playing the murderous protagonist of her script) is poised and balanced. Not an easy role to pull off, but with seasoned timing Ruth enjoys moments of gleeful manipulation with each of her victims – fleshing out the disparagement and disputes that pregnancy can create, one kill at a time. It’s both glorious and terrifying; I am (once again) half convinced that this Coventry creative is hiding bodies under a patio somewhere in the Midlands.
The support cast is pretty much faultless too – although they don’t get too much time on screen to swing it far one way or the other. As mentioned, Jo Hartley’s patronising midwife is a superb stab at the way people talk to both ‘mummy’ and ‘baby’. Gemma Whelan’s charitable cold shoulder (“…you don’t know with charities these days”) sets up one of the best sparring matches in the film, verbal or otherwise. Whilst the litany of creepy males, from the absurdly narcissistic DJ Dan to the blended sensibility of hipster housemate Josh, are near perfect as single scene cannon fodder.
It is the sub plot that arguably suffers, with the fuel behind Ruth’s rampage almost fighting for a final resting place. In pre-production, Prevenge could have been pitched anywhere between a straight up slapstick black comedy and a sharp tongue in cheek dissection of the modern role of ‘mother’. In post-production it lands between to the two, but with slivers of narrative thread that don’t fully tie up or support the end film. A 5 second shot of Ruth holding another picture, showing a smiling group engaged in ‘activity’, might have been well placed near the beginning.
Prevenge is also a little Alice Lowe centric (writes the man who obsessively controls his own multi faceted website) with the tone overtly dictated by the one woman production powerhouse. It works though, so not really a negative this time, but if Lena Dunham has shown us nothing else… Next stop a bigger budget and crew.
And I wouldn’t worry if you don’t have a womb; Prevenge is absolutely worth some time, money and further discussion no matter what gender box you tick. Jokes about lactating nipples aside the script explores enough universal truths to engage to us all – primarily the mollycoddling of what is essentially a brutal, natural world.
As Ruth says herself, “I think nature’s a bit of a cunt, don’t you.” And I want to sear flesh when I’m stuck outside at the sharp end of January.
Prevenge – by Alice Lowe
Prevenge will out on general UK release from 10th February – as presented by Western Edge Pictures. For more on Prevenge, visit www.prevengemovie.co.uk
For more from on Alice Lowe, visit www.alicelowe.net
For more from The Mockingbird Cinema & Kitchen, including the venue’s full programme of films, events and food/drink, visit www.mockingbirdcinema.com
For more from on Western Edge Pictures, visit www.westernedgepictures.com