Prevenge (2016) Film Review from the 41st Annual Toronto International Film Festival, a movie directed by Alice Lowe, and starring Alice Lowe, Kate Dickie, Gemma Whelan, Jo Hartley, Dan Renton Skinner, Kayvan Novak, Tom Davis, Eileen Davies, Tom Meeten, and Grace Calder.
Prevenge is a slasher horror film starring and directed by English filmmaker Alice Lowe, who is best known for her role in Richard Ayode‘s Twin Peaks-esque cult television series, Garth Marenghi‘s Darkplace. In Prevenge, Lowe plays Ruth, a pregnant widow who, after the sudden death of her boyfriend in a climbing accident, seeks revenge on the members of his climbing party. Ruth is spurred on to murder by the voice of her unborn baby.
One of the greatest qualities of this film is that it’s a perfect pushback to all the gooey sentimentality and commodification of women’s bodies that a lot of people face during their pregnancies. Lowe herself was pregnant at the time of filming, which, in spite of some of its more unrealistic aspects, gives Prevenge a tangibility that makes the film much more successful than if Lowe was wearing a false stomach.
Lowe’s film attacks the stereotype of the docile, dawdling pregnant woman whose body becomes treated as community property. At a doctor’s visit, Ruth’s midwife declares that the baby inside her is in charge of her life and her body now, and Ruth quickly agrees, as her unborn child is the mastermind behind her killing spree.
Like everything British, Prevenge is, on some level, about social class. At another doctor’s visit, Ruth’s midwife threatens to alert child services that Ruth might be an unfit mother. Ruth breaks into a tirade about how her baby will be taken by an awful, “middle-class” (meaning wealthy, or upper-class in the U.K.) family. Ruth’s position as a soon-to-be working-class single mother is more of an issue to her midwife than some of the strange things that Ruth is saying about her fetus. Some of this class anxiety is even portrayed in the voice of the fetus itself, who, Ruth comments to her midwife, is very eloquent. It’s an interesting detail that Ruth’s unborn baby has a more “posh” accent than she does.
Prevenge is a grindhouse style revenge tale that follows in the heart 70’s grindhouse classics like I Spit On Your Grave. There’s something of Tarantino’s Kill Bill in this film as well, but the difference here is that Ruth lacks the cool and collected vibe in these types of movies. Instead, Ruth feels real. Unlike Uma Thurman as The Bride, Ruth stumbles and bumbles and makes mistakes.
In a lot of ways, this film is very similar to 2009’s “vegan horror” film Grace, in which a stillborn baby comes back to life with a thirst for human blood. Unlike Grace, Prevenge is never preachy and doesn’t push an agenda at you. There are feminist themes present, such as when Ruth is attempting to seduce, and then murder. an absolutely disgusting pub DJ (Tom Davis) who remarks to her that he “loves fat birds” because they “don’t mind what people do to [them]”.
However, after slaying the DJ and another slimy pet shop owner (Dan Renton Skinner) who makes lewd references to his “big snake”, Ruth moves on to murder a woman. This shows us that while Ruth’s first two kills are somewhat gendered in their delivery, her motivations are more misanthropic, and less misandrist.
Prevenge is good, but it’s not perfect. After an entire film filled with rage and buildup, Ruth is put off her last (and most important) kill with little to no effort. Even though this film isn’t meant to be taken seriously as a drama, some of the characters are a little too unbelievable at times. It might have been better if Lowe were able to pull back some of the writing and performances by just a hair. Prevenge‘s ending is a little disappointing as well, but it doesn’t really diminish from the experience of the film overall.
Anglophiles who enjoy a look into the grim side of British culture might get a kick out of Prevenge. The same can be said for fans of feminist cinema, and for those who enjoy contemporary slashers. There are some great gross out scenes and a few dark laughs to be had in this film. It’s not high art, but it’s a solid film, and if you like horror movies, it’s worth your time.
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