Written and directed with a suitably biting edge by star Alice Lowe, PREVENGE is a droll and razor sharp black comedy of a horror film that considers the terrors of pregnancy and the maternal instinct gone askew. Very askew. Lowe, with a perfect deadpan sense of purpose, wields her kitchen knife as an instrument of karmic retribution against life’s intrinsic lack of fairness, provoking empathy and scorn in equal measure as she cuts a deliberate and very bloody swath through London.
Seven-month’s pregnant, Ruth is alone, clinically despondent, and at the mercy of her surprisingly eloquent and profane fetus, a little girl with sophisticated ideas of justice, the which she, as a fetus, is unable to fulfill. She may be attached to an umbilical cord, but she’s a bully, and fully in charge. Something Ruth mentions, the fully in charge part anyway, to her impossibly perky and oblivious midwife (Jo Hartley), only to be told that “baby is in charge now” and to just let it happen.
And so it does.
Ruth goes from tentative slicer of throats to a determined slasher, tenderly kissing the forehead of her first victim in apology, to a dispassionate professional who relishes her newfound efficiency, even flair, for her mission. There is a method to her madness, killing seemingly random people with nothing in common save being dispatched by Ruth’s knife. There is a specific grudge at work that allows for gently tucking one victim’s mother into bed after the crime, and also for taking out an innocent, and very nice, bystander in order to make a clean getaway.
There is a wonderful irony in milquetoast Ruth finding her power by being a puppet of her fetus, the one to tells her not to get cocky when Ruth experiences a moment of pure elation after a particularly satisfying kill. And Ruth instantly obeys. It’s a piquant way of exploring the phenomenon of surrendering one’s body to the creature it is incubating, the unsettling realization that the body that has been one’s sole property is now just a vessel.
Still, this is a vicious film. Blood flows copiously, and victims die slowly with attendant unsettling gurgling. Some, like the smarmy owner of a pet shop who speaks in crass double-entendres, or the 70s-loving DJ who thinks nothing of lunging at Ruth in a cab after vomiting, engender less sympathy than the lonely executive or the ci-mentioned innocent bystander, but as the red stains grow around them, Lowe allows them something pathetic in their death throes. Lowe, as actress and filmmaker, never lets us forget the horror at work in the service of Ruth’s grief. It’s even more potent when Ruth natters on to a victim about office furniture while casually waving her knife, or off-handedly dismissing having killed something she knows is kind.
PREVENGE confronts our primal nature lurking below the thin veneer of civilization in a fresh, startling way. Unconventional, savagely original, and unexpectedly moving, it takes us to dark places with just enough of a remove to keep us comfortable. Mostly.