The ever-reliable Alice Lowe has carved quite a meaty role for herself in PREVENGE, a perversely amusing and multi-faceted exercise in genre defiance which also happens to mark the renowned British comic’s directorial debut. While past work on the ingeniously strange GARTH MARENGHI’S DARKPLACE and even more recently a collaboration with Ben Wheatley (with whom she wrote SIGHTSEERS) have undoubtedly rubbed off on her over time, this is Lowe’s own wonderful slice of weirdness to claim. If it doesn’t hit every one of its targets with ease, it at the very least wastes no time finding new ones.
Lowe plays Ruth, a widow who’s a good seven months into her pregnancy as of her opening confrontation with the sleazy proprietor of an exotic pet shop, with remarkable conviction. You see, she’s not carrying around just any old fetus; this is a fetus that speaks to Ruth, telepathically, in the voice of a little girl and compels her to do its evil bidding.
As any good mother would, Ruth is willing to mercilessly slaughter any man or woman who crosses her path in the hopes of satisfying the most carnal desires of her beloved monster. If at first there appears to be little method to the madness, it’s surely a result of Lowe’s insistence on favoring viscerally compelling storytelling over a series of utterly banal exposition dumps. Ruth keeps a notebook on her person at all times, in which the specificities of the kill list are better defined, and the influence of the absent father and husband surely shouldn’t be ruled out entirely. Most of the victims are – in fact – men, though it’s soon made quite clear that gender is hardly a factor into the unborn child’s insatiable bloodlust.
It’s both a blessing and a curse that Ruth’s motivation isn’t explored in more explicit detail; a blessing, because this way the film is able to effectively maintain a consistently exhilarating pace, and a curse because it can tend to leave a bit of an empty pit in its wake. Nevertheless, the film’s emotional pallet is a most impressive one. It would be far too easy to pass this deeply disturbed odyssey off as shallow misanthropy, or merely a wryly amusing riff on Alain Robak’s great BABY BLOOD, just as it would be misguided to claim that Lowe’s point-of-view remains elsewhere where the human experience is concerned.
This sort of angry, slippery satire – in which Lowe goes after the likes of corporate drones, fitness junkies, millennial hipsters, and thinly veiled misogyny – is thankfully accompanied by a great deal of empathy, as the film is really a confrontation of grief as well as the dangers of solitude. That she was actually pregnant at the time of principal photography is just the icing on the cake where such a uniquely engaging talent is concerned, and Lowe is able to balance her apparent adoration for cynical splatter with deeper undertones of sadness. It’s rather beautiful, how Ruth is capable of existing in her own world up to a certain point, and the film does well to explore how truly crushing it can be when these isolated walls are suddenly broken down.
It certainly helps a lot that Lowe has such a talented team behind her at all times, ranging from the likes of Ryan Eddleston – whose cinematography is equally understated and effectively surreal whenever either, or both, is apt – and the efficient editing of Matteo Bini to the always welcome acting chops of Kate Dickie and fellow British comic Tom Davis (who makes for a delectably sleazy downtown disc jockey), among others.
Of course, one imagines that Lowe could do so much more with a more generous budget as well as more time allotted, but if this is the quality of entertainment that she is capable of producing in just eleven days, then it’s quite apparent that she has a bright future at the helm ahead. Articulately merging influence with graceful naturalism, PREVENGE is a deranged delight. It certainly hits the spot, if only to stomp it to pieces soon after.