Amongst some of the year’s biggest horror releases like The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Get Out and Raw, Alice Lowe’s Prevenge offers a riveting performance by the writer, director and actor as a pregnant woman seeking revenge. Mixing a strange concoction of pathos and cyclical humour — channelling her turn in Ben Wheatley’s masterful Sightseers — Lowe exhibits her dexterous acting ability by blurring the distinctions between horror and dark comedy. Drawing on the hysteria of pregnancy and the film industry’s prejudgments against employing a pregnant actor, Lowe’s personal struggles are channelled into a sadistic and chameleonic character, willing to adapt and charm her victims into a blood-spattered, deathly grip.
From the first frame of Prevenge to its last, the cinematography of Ryan Eddleston captures Lowe’s melancholic and twitching face. Her character, Ruth, is constantly consumed with grief and anxiety after her partner dies in a climbing accident, thus resulting in her quest for revenge through the persuasion of her omnipresent unborn child. As a means of copiously cutting to Lowe’s face, a tangible sense of distress and the macabre arises through mixing performance and claustrophobic close-ups. Enthralling the viewer into empathizing with Ruth, deadpan dialogue infuses the character with dry British humour — clearly honed through Lowe’s work in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, The World’s End and a plethora of BBC TV shows. As Jo Hartley’s overtly beaming midwife in Prevenge, this tonal element comes to the forefront in Lowe’s performance, perfectly exemplified in Ruth’s declaration to the midwife that “nature’s a bit of a cunt.”
Acting against two prominent British comedians in Tom Davis and Kayvan Novak (who are similarly portrayed as displaying emotional flaws) imbues Ruth with a genuine emotional disconnect and overwhelming cynicism. Promoting improvisation on set, Lowe’s creative freeing of comedic performances helps to lift the ghoulish nature of a pregnant woman venturing around Cardiff enacting murder. The tragedy of comedy in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy relatedly flows through Davis’ “DJ Dave” in his pathetic demeanour. Murdered in an emasculating fashion, thanks to some grotesque practical effects, it’s a sequence that highlights a sadistic killing, whilst serving to depict Ruth’s fragility, Lowe’s complex performance and Davis’ dismal life.
Possessing a maleficent and omnipresent voice, Ruth’s unborn child craves for the blood of the guilty and innocent. It’s all the more fascinating that Lowe is continually acting against a non-physical presence structured during the editing process. Comparable to her performance with the Hartley’s midwife, in the moments of communication between mother and unborn child, they possess a greater degree of deadpan in evoking a sardonic sensibility, typified in the deliverance of lines such as “Children these days are really spoilt like ‘Mummy, I want a PlayStation’… ‘Mummy, I want you to kill that man.'” On a deeper philosophical level, Prevenge transgresses its humourous output and deconstructs the “phallic mother” of Barbara Creed’s The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, which has been uncovered as a popular format for filming women in horror and sci-fi films.
As any great piece of cinema should evoke in the viewer, Alice Lowe’s electric performance in Prevenge makes one laugh, cry and shriek in terror. Helping to shift audience’s perspectives towards individualities and peculiarities, through the vice of a murdering pregnant woman, it’s one of the pinnacle performances of 2017, promoting a force to embrace female filmmakers, characters and creatives.
Alasdair Bayman (@alasdairbayman) is a recent graduate of English Literature at The University of Manchester and a freelance film critic for the London-based site DMovies. While writing for the Mancunion for two years as a senior film critic whilst studying, he discussed film with the likes of Raw’s director Julia Ducournau and the artistic director of HOMEMCR, Jason Wood.