Running Time: 88 mins
Director: Alice Lowe
Cast: Alice Lowe, Jo Hartley, Tom Davis, Kayvan Novak, Kate Dickie and Gemma Whelan
(QFT Belfast, Press Screening 07/02/17)
Widow Ruth is seven months pregnant when, believing herself to be guided by her unborn baby, she embarks on a homicidal rampage, dispatching anyone who stands in her way.
Baby Knows Best!
Pregnancy is kind of gross. When you stop to think about it that is. Oh it’s beautiful and mother nature is wonderful and all that but it’s also like, having this thing inside you. That’s gross. When a woman says she’s pregnant, she’s basically saying I have a tiny human inside me. That’s really, really weird. But also magical. Or biological. Or both. It depends on your belief system but I guess you can accommodate both points of view. Celluloid understands that pregnancy is horrifying…to males mostly. Women are made of much sterner stuff.
Interestingly, Prevenge is written and directed by a woman (a phrase not said nearly enough) but the preoccupation of this film is less about what it’s like to be pregnant and more about a series of gruesome set pieces about a woman who happens to be pregnant who also hears an (initially but soon grating) eerie voice coming from her unborn baby that tells her to kill people.
Pregnancy and horror movies do have a fairly long history together. The most obvious ones that spring to mind are Rosemary’s Baby and Alien. Maybe Junior too but I suspect they were trying to make a comedy with that one. And Prevenge isn’t a straight up horror movie exactly, there are a couple of very funny moments in it but therein lies one of the major problems with the film. Tonally, it’s a somewhat messy film but I rather suspect this is what writer, director and star Alice Lowe was going for. Horror comedy is a very tricky genre to get right and even the ones that are critically lauded, like Shaun of the Dead, I found neither scary nor funny.
But, when Prevenge is good, it’s very good. Sadly that’s basically the first two major set pieces of the movie; the opening scene in a pet shop (with actor/comedian Dan Renton Skinner) and the best thing in the entire movie; the sequence with dim-witted Disco Dan (played by the wonderfully talented Tom Davis).
It’s also the scene that, if you are a male, you may not want to watch as poor Dan loses his testicles in rather detailed fashion. This scene and the build up to this scene are very funny and Tom Davis can’t help but steal the limelight from Alice Lowe’s (who is excellent and will always have a place in my heart because of Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place) pregnant Ruth but the film really goes downhill from here.
When you think it might have something more substantial to say about pregnancy or antediluvian misogyny (like when she applies for a job), it goes off in a different direction and that direction tends to be her killing people in quite graphic ways. There’s loosely a story about Ruth avenging the death of her partner but it feels flimsy at best and at worst, just an excuse to see Ruth off people and have weird (though occasionally funny) dialogue with her unborn baby.
In perhaps the sequence that strains credibility the most, Ruth attacks a woman in a doorway and said woman proceeds to fight Ruth with boxing gloves on. I think they’re going for off-beat or goofy but the scene falls flat and it signals the major problem with the movie: Tonally it doesn’t work. The trailer might make you believe you’re in for an American Psycho esque experience but it’s nowhere near as savvy or satirical.
Prevenge looks great and does a lot with a presumably tiny budget and the music (which is at times Italo disco with hints of Boards of Canada) is fine but it feels much too like a pastiche of what was done much better in films like The Guest and It Follows. And The Guest is the perfect example of blending horror and comedy and also how to acknowledge what has come before but without making it seem like you are ripping them off.
Prevenge is, in The Simpsons sense of the word, post-modern. You know, weird for the sake of being weird and I do get the strong impression this is exactly the movie Alice Lowe wanted to make. It might be a curio for some but it sadly lost my attention about mid-way through (I was checking my phone which is never a good sign) as it didn’t deliver on, what was initially, an interesting premise.
Alice Lowe turns in a typically great performance and there’s a scene stealing turn from Tom Davis but Prevenge will appeal to only a select few. The movie going public at large will likely be put off as will those who like to see testicles attached to the body. Also expectant mothers might want to give this one a miss too.