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Shudder Review: Prevenge

Release: 24 March 2017

Director: Alice Lowe

Screenplay: Alice Lowe

Cast: Gemma Whelan, Alice Lowe, Jo Hartley

Rating: NR

Production Co: Western Edge Pictures

”At the end of the day, you’ve got this force of nature now inside of you. Baby knows what to do. Baby will tell you what to do.”

“I think she already does.”

Most moviegoers are familiar with Rosemary’s Baby and its explorations of control of the female body and antenatal anxieties. Maternal detachment and pregnant paranoia is an evergreen bounty for horror harvest, and the case is no different in Prevenge. A genre-straddling potboiler from the co-creator of 2012’s Sightseers, Prevenge is also the newest film from Western Edge Pictures, the same production company that brought us the under-appreciated Irish horror gem The Canal, and the directorial debut of Alice Lowe (also the film’s writer and star). Lowe births a long-gestating tale of maternal madness in the form of Ruth, a widow in her third trimester of pregnancy who, believing herself to be under the command of her soon-to-be-born child, enacts a serial murder spree.

The film opens with Ruth staring off into space, which is then intercut with frantic POV shots atop a seaside cliff, with smatterings of blood here and there. While it’s not until the end of the film that the meaning of the evocative imagery is revealed, the mellow but unsettling tone is set. From there, Ruth enters a pet shop and begins to talk to the store’s owner. While she seems vulnerable and meek as she sidesteps his crude remarks, her mild exterior falls away as soon as the coast is clear. She pulls out an implement and quickly dispatches him, as she deliberately does with several other vaguely-connected characters throughout the film. On the surface, Ruth has two types of victims: those who exalt her pregnancy to a near-fetish status, and those who dismiss her because of her “condition”. As the narrative continues, however, a rhyme and reason to her slaying spree begins to crown.

“You have absolutely no control over your mind or body now,” says her midwife (Jo Hartley). “Baby will tell you what to do…” The baby erases her mother in a sense, possessing her and supplying her with the impetus to kill with little fanfare. Ruth’s unwavering deference to her unborn child creates a pretty wide gap between her and her own humanity, sometimes to the story’s detriment.

It feels like we’re meant to connect with Ruth, and that connection just doesn’t happen for me. While some of her victims are indeed callous and brutish (a doomed DJ, played by an effective Tom Davis, drunkenly utters to her, “I fucking love fat birds, you don’t mind what people do to you”), they’re also humanized enough to elicit sympathy at their demise. Even worse, this lop-sided dynamic makes Ruth seem largely unsympathetic. Throughout the film, there is little friction between Ruth and her demanding unborn child; she doesn’t put up much of a fuss when commanded to kill and only once does she seem remorseful after killing. It’s not just bodily autonomy that she’s lost, it’s moral independence, and that just makes Ruth seem like a garbage human being. Is that a deal-breaker for horror films? Not at all. Anti-heroes abound in the genre. But Ruth’s (lack of) arc muddles the profound messages that the story takes such pains to convey.

Then again, the film’s contradictions don’t seem unintentional. On the contrary, they feed into Lowe’s overall refusal to simply pick a genre and follow its tropes. It moves among and between disgusted commentary, cold-blooded slasher, and deadpan comedy. One minute I recoiled at the sight of a man cradling what was left of his lower torso, the next I laughed aloud at his killer as she patiently offered the victim’s mother a hot beverage as she tucked her into bed. As Ruth waddles between moods and personalities, so, too, does the film entire. While I certainly wouldn’t call Prevenge a bad film by any measure, to call it a horror-comedy sets it up for failure that it simply doesn’t deserve. Fellow cinephile Charlie Gallagher (@ThatCharlieGuy) came up with the term “mellow thriller”, and I think that’s as accurate a description as anyone is going to get. Prevenge has a lot to say in its conception, and while the delivery is jarring and a bit unorthodox, that’s not a bad thing.

A.M. Novak is a California-based freelance writer and staunch Halloween 6 apologist. Her horror film analyses have appeared on Birth. Movies. Death.,Vague Visages, F This Movie!, Daily Grindhouse, and wherever they'll let her talk about scary movies. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter @BookishPlinko.

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