Once when I worked in a cubicle oozing office I remember the women telling me horror stories of their first born; uteruses falling out, death defying loss of blood, vomit pooling around the slate stones of a sidewalk, babies- unknowingly, feral- scratching their own faces raw (“it’s why they wear those mittens,” one assured). I also remember one woman shushing the others, telling them “not to scare me,” “it’s natural,” it’s not awful.” And that’s when I realized the great mommy conspiracy: having a baby is a terrifying experience, if anyone ever faced this truth outright there might not be a human race. Prevenge is a stark reminder of this creepy, clawing otherwordly state of being that can easily haunt and terrify, taking the horrors of the hormonal to extreme twisted depths with a deft, tense cinematic control and precise, flawless delivery.
In the opening of the film Ruth (Alice Lowe) enters into a pet shop inquiring about an animal for her child. The unassuming sweet British woman, decked in a flower dress, moves through the store jumpy and fearful, snakes and spiders snap, she is coaxed about the shop by a leering store owner. This meek women suddenly disappears as Ruth becomes possessed, another, murderous woman standing in her sensible flats. Often using stereotypes of femininity as a guise, Ruth presents herself as unassuming, like the woman you look through on every train. But it is exactly this feeling of safety that makes for her best victims, luring one into knife’s reach with the welcoming softness of a mother to be. The driving force behind Prevenge is a narrative mystery, the whereabouts of the baby’s father an unfolding story that rhythmically drives the plot, constantly teetering on the edge of reality and inducing Ruth into targeted murderous rage. Is Ruth of sane mind? Is her revenge against those she is killing justified? Is she in control? Or is it really her unborn fetus making her into this mommy monster? Is she mad or driven to madness?
With a flat lined, darkly British humor and gruesome blood lust, Alice Lowe smoothly moves through the film delivering her performance with the utmost believability and making even the most outrageous feel wholly possible, kind of like the idea of bringing a child into the world itself. Prevenge The eerie qualities of motherhood (the isolation, the loneliness, the sacrifice) are captured with a raw and rare ease, possibly enhanced by the fact that Lowe was actually pregnant during the making of the film.
The domestic horror film is a genre that persists through the decades. From Rosemary’s Baby to more recently The Babadook, horror films are constantly exploring the gruesome biological and emotional conflicts that rise up out of motherhood. Prevenge is another in this vein and, like the best of them, is a pure psychological thriller- think a comical, feminist Nicholas Winding Refn, complete with atmospheric synth score and replacing the cold hearted with lush and beating life. In between scenes of heads bludgeoned into tables and blood dripping from a knife, the issue of what it means to be a mother gasps for breath raising very real issues regarding the expectations of modern motherhood, the distillation of the adult female image and many, many more. Not only does the film make one pause to think about the nature of bearing a child- both politically and personally- it is also a throat slashing example of supreme horror filmmaking that will make you cringe, jump and double take. I don’t recommend this is a date movie (did I mention there is a severed testicle?) but I do recommend it as a biting, truthful, bloody, tongue in cheek genre movie that continues to reinforce my ongoing decision to not have a baby and my devotion to the power and importance of female creativity.
– Donna K. (@TeamDonnaK)