MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
A slasher film about a pregnant woman committing murder with a kitchen knife sounds like some weird version of Mad Libs, and not necessarily a watchable movie. Nevertheless, writer, director and star, Alice Lowe has made a movie like Prevenge a tense, yet funny, gory, yet artistic, horror film. Filmed during Lowe’s actual pregnancy, the movie’s main character, Ruth, is a British woman expecting her first child. Ruth’s partner, as we gradually learn, died in a climbing accident due to the apparent negligence of the other climbers.
Prompted by the voice of her unborn daughter, Ruth kills the people she holds responsible for her partner’s death. By taking advantage of how others treat her in her delicate state, our heroine shockingly becomes adept at committing murder.
I learned of the film when a trailer appeared as a suggested Facebook ad. I was hooked the minute I started watching. As a fan of both women-led media and horror films, I knew I would enjoy Prevenge. The film plays with society’s notion that pregnant women exist in a state of bliss, full of love and motherly devotion. In contrast, our main character Ruth is hindered by her pregnancy and frightened by the will of her daughter.
The fetus is extremely verbose, complaining about the people and world around her. She speaks in a cutesy demonic voice that sounds like Peppa Pig on drugs. “You can’t shake me, I’m fury.” Ruth tries to lecture her daughter, but it’s pretty clear who is running the show. As Ruth’s condescending midwife says, “Baby knows best.” But unfortunately, what the midwife doesn’t know is that the baby wants people stabbed to death.
While the movie’s premise has the promise of a cheesy B-Movie, it’s actually the opposite. Slow moving and deliberate, this is not a stylized or exaggerated film. Ruth commits her murders in a believable way and the story is all the more effective for it. Aside from the murder, you could be watching a movie about a woman mourning and working her way through a difficult situation. Ruth having her autonomy stifled by the wants of her unborn daughter offers an exaggerated metaphor of women feeling that their body no longer belongs to them while pregnant.
Music by the group, Toydrum, adds to the freakiness with a synth soundtrack. Even in the film’s calmest moments, the soundtrack reminds you that all is not right and something menacing is right around the corner.
I was impressed that Lowe took advantage of her own pregnancy to play Ruth. It added a layer of creativity to her project that otherwise wouldn’t be there if someone else was playing her. It’s rare, unfortunately, that we see a film with such a strong female presence behind and in front of the camera.
Some people could interpret the madness aspect of the movie as hinting at pre and post-natal depression. Yes, Ruth is not all in her mind and clearly depressed. But the film does not go into detail about what can be a complicated illness. Ruth’s midwife never brings it up in conversation during her appointments. Whether that is a deliberate story choice or neglect by the character is not commented on. However, women who have experienced pregnancy-related mental illness may relate to Ruth. Having never been in that situation, I can’t make that judgement. Prevenge is more art than exposition, if you are looking for an in-depth discussion of the disease, you may have to look elsewhere.
Would I consider Prevenge a feminist film? Yes. A female character does not have to be a shining beacon of morality to be a good character. Society praises women who are loving, kind, and feminine, and female characters who don’t follow this are often derided by fans. Look at how people responded to Breaking Bad’s Skyler White and her criticism of her husband Walt’s meth dealing. The hate got so bad that actress Anna Gunn wrote an article about it that can be read here.
Ruth is a three dimensional. Yes, she is going around committing murders, but her partner died, leaving her pregnant and alone. Along with the violence, we get scenes of Ruth sadly contemplating her situation. I for one just wanted to give her a hug.
In the movie, Ruth criticizes the expectations of how women are supposed to act during pregnancy in a great scene to disparage how mothers-to-be are poorly treated in the workforce. She attends a job interview as a ruse to meet with one of her victims. The woman interviewing Ruth tells her that while qualified, she wouldn’t be hired because she is pregnant. After she slits the woman’s throat, Ruth throws a sexist comment back at her as a post-kill one liner.
Finally, nothing beats Ruth as she gets ready to commit her last murder. This mild-mannered and ordinary woman transforms into an avenging goddess, red dress flowing around her, with a face painted like a skull.
While I really enjoyed the movie and all the squirming feelings it produced, I thought that the ending was a little rushed. Prevenge was wonderful at creating suspense, I don’t want to spoil the climax, but it loses steam as it nears the finish line.
That being said, I know that Lowe gave her best performance. Ruth was never a cardboard cutout, such as when she kills a man and then lovingly putting his senile mother to bed when she wanders out of her room. Prevenge is unforgettable, I sincerely hope that this is not the last we see of Lowe.
Prevenge is available to watch on Shudder.com.