At cinemas Fri 10 Feb 2017

Pregnancy is often played for wry humour onscreen.  In films like Knocked Up and Juno, despite the anxiety and uncertainty of carrying a new life, the tone is usually reassuringly cosy and positive.  The same can’t be said of Alice Lowe’s directorial debut.  An altogether nastier, deranged take on the condition, Prevenge is all the more alarming for having been written and filmed in a stringent time frame during Lowe’s own pregnancy.

Lowe plays Ruth, a first-time mother in late pregnancy.  Faced with bringing up baby alone for reasons that are revealed later, Ruth appears to be suffering an intense form of prepartum depression in which she is compelled to kill at the behest of her stridently malevolent bump.  A sleazy dealer in exotic pets, a repellent misogynistic DJ, and a chilly female businesswoman all fall victim to Ruth’s mordantly world weary spree.  Apparently random, the link between the victims becomes clear as the bodies pile up.

Those viewers familiar with Sightseers, Lowe’s collaboration with Steve Oram, which was directed by Ben Wheatley, will have an idea what to expect from Prevenge. As in that film, a mundane scenario is twisted into a gory Möbius strip, and mined for the blackest of humour.  But While Lowe was a hangdog accomplice in Wheatley’s film, gradually sucked into Oram’s cyclonic rage; in Prevenge the blood is very much on her hands from the offset, the demonic chatterings of her unborn aside.  Ruth is calculated, cold and ironically completely ruthless. She’s part Uma Thurman’s Bride from Kill Bill, part Asami from AuditionThere are also debts to Rosemary’s Baby, and the heightened, queasy feel that permeates the film calls to mind Andrzej Zulawski’s cult horror Possession.

Lowe makes the bold move of often burying the comedy underneath the cloying swathes of horror.  It is slightly in danger of becoming repetitive as victims are dispatched one by one, interspersed with visits to the midwife and moments of sullen reflection, but it mitigates this through clever storytelling and a gradual shift in tone.  As the film progresses the laughs grow terser and more uneasy.  This occurs as our empathy for Ruth begins to wilt in the face of her relentless thirst for vengeance and other revelations that are disclosed come the third act. By the end, we’ve had to thoroughly reevaluate whether to root for her at all.

Tightly-plotted and written and filmed in a manic burst of creative energy, Prevenge is a punchy, satisfying debut from a wonderfully adept comedy writer and performer who is also steeped in the history and the cinematic language of horror.  This has been evident since her supporting role in the under-appreciated Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place, and hopefully her directorial debut is the first of many.