When you’re pregnant, you’re fully at the mercy of the lil’ person incubating inside you. It tells you when to eat (incessantly), pee (constantly) and stay awake (forever!). But imagine if that fetal force inside was much more malevolent, guiding you to do the absolute worst, instructing you to… GASP… kill! It’s from that audacious concept writer-director-star Alice Lowe births her phenomenal feature, PREVENGE. Taking a few narrative cues from THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, LADY SNOWBLOOD and KILL BILL, and adding in the potently charged pregnancy aspect, the triple threat crafts a wildly original, totally badass, provocative thriller spiked with glints of dark comedy.
Ruth (Lowe) is not your average seven-months-pregnant woman; She’s not filled with joy and hope at her child’s impending birth. She’s not nesting. And she’d definitely not buying into all that propaganda society shoves down her throat about how wonderful and magical this time is. She’s caught in a riptide of grief, still reeling from the recent, accidental death of her boyfriend Matt (Marc Bessant). Numb to life and with hormones literally raging, Ruth’s overcome by the yil’ voice of her unborn daughter (who sounds like Die Antwood’s Yo-landi Visser), instructing her to murder everyone involved in her baby daddy’s death. Ruth’s murderous rampage leads her to question the reality of the situation and her own sanity – but not in ways you’d ever expect.
Lowe litters the picture with symbolism, alluding to predators, prey and parasites in order to brilliantly strengthen narrative connections. Victims on Ruth’s death list – specifically lonely businesswoman Ella (Kate Dickie), disgusting DJ Dan (Tom Davis) and fit Len (Gemma Whelan) – represent cutting commentary on a few “isms” (sexism, weightism, athleticism). Zac (Tom Meeten) and Mr. Zabek (Dan Renton Skinner) are pure rage-based killings – Zac for his complacency and Zabek for being a sicko. Mercy killings, you could say. She’s protective, but this is also self-preservation. Even though this is an off-kilter fantasy, it’s grounded in a familiar reality parents know well – like guilt-driven emotions about the fear of getting it wrong. Not only is this a smart psychological genre mash-up, it also rings with a melancholic tone, courtesy of Pablo Clements and James Griffith’s (a.k.a. Toydrums) score and Lowe’s astute use of Nick Kershaw’s “Wouldn’t It Be Good.”
Lowe has created an utterly dynamic, dichotomous antihero in Ruth. The masculine and feminine collide, at times intermixing in her vengeful acts. Her passive aggressive barbs slice through her conversations before she physically does the dicing. Lowe’s technique is brilliantly subversive, layering in traditional “dick flick” dialogue, or lines more at home in a 90’s Schwarzenegger, Stallone or Willis film: “I’m sorry I’ve had to make some really harsh cuts,” and “It’s a cut throat world.”
Though Ruth’s look is reminiscent of Ally Sheedy in THE BREAKFAST CLUB, she does have a conscience. She feels remorse when a kind bystander gets in the way, reveals vulnerability with the midwife (Jo Hartley), and displays kindness with one victim’s dementia-stricken mom (Leila Hoffman). It’s also funny to see her surprised by the things no one tells you will happen when you’re pregnant – weird responses the body has to stimuli. Plus, I love how Ruth’s Halloween costume is a “Dia de los Muertos” look – befitting bereavement, but her sentimental feelings have morphed into pure rage.
Personally, I’d like to see a future sequel where her daughter is done wrong by the school system, forcing Ruth to go all “Mama Bear” on the PTA. For now, at least, maybe she can be recruited for BAD MOMS 2: AFTERBIRTH.
4.5 out of 5
PREVENGE opens theatrically at the IFC Center in New York and The Cinefamily in Los Angeles, and will be available to stream nationwide on Shudder, on March 24.