The Pregnant Serial Killer Movie Taking A Knife To Stereotypes On Film

Photo: Courtesy of Kaleidoscope Entertainment
Prevenge, the directing debut of English writer and actress Alice Lowe, is extraordinary in almost every way. First off, it’s about a pregnant widow (played by Lowe) engaged in an exceptionally bloody killing spree – not your average cinematic fare. Secondly, Lowe herself was heavily pregnant while filming, her newborn daughter Della Moon making a cameo at the end of the film. Then there’s how the entire production took just two months: Lowe wrote the script in a fortnight, got the green light straightaway and shot it over 11 days.

“It was born of frustration in a way,” she explains over coffee in Camberwell’s South London Gallery, “not just about pregnancy, but also because I’d been wanting to make a film for such a long time and I found that you have to jump through so many development hoops to get anything off the ground that often the originality gets beaten out of it. The things that feel a bit clumsy, that get people a bit worried, are actually what makes it original.” There’s no denying it; Prevenge is breathtakingly original. A nightmare-black comedy, it treads a similarly lurid path to Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, which Lowe co-wrote and starred in, but turns things up a notch. It’s clunkier, more bloodthirsty, higher-octane, propelled by Lowe’s maniacal performance and a pounding, synth-led soundtrack.

Lowe’s character, Ruth is a woman in mourning, whose loneliness and desire to avenge her dead partner have given way to a state of psychosis. She believes the foetus inside her is commanding her (in a Jane Horrocks-style falsetto) to kill. A midwife reassures Ruth that “baby will tell you what to do” – not much of a comfort, given baby’s predilection for gore. We watch as Ruth takes on a delicious cross-section of stereotypes – from the sleazy overweight DJ still living with his mother to the brittle businesswoman with a penchant for group activity weekends – slowly piecing together the puzzle of Ruth’s current circumstance as the story unfolds.

Lowe slices through taboos and cinematic conventions regarding women as cleanly and precisely as Ruth draws her knife across her victims’ throats. (As “baby” says gleefully in voiceover, “Oh yes, we [women] can be the worst, the coldest, the most merciless, the most ruthless.”) But amid the surreal, slasher-tilted extravagance, she poses important questions about “the alien experience of pregnancy” and the effects of prepartum depression, building to a bizarre and brilliant end. Here, ahead of its release, we sit down with Lowe to discuss the film’s influences, the power of pregnancy and the outdated belief that female characters must be likeable.
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Photo: Courtesy of Kaleidoscope Entertainment
What was it like directing your first film while pregnant?

For me, it felt really normal. I’d spent 15 years gearing up to this, practising on various sets and acting in low-budget, slightly more unconventional things where I’d been wearing more than one hat anyway. There are a lot of first-time directors who have never stepped on a set before shooting but for me it’s become like my office. I really enjoy the practical aspects of film so I forgot I was pregnant in a way, until someone said, ’Do you want to sit down?’ And then I’d go, ‘Oh yeah. I’m allowed to sit down!’ I don’t know whether it’s psychological but I feel like if I’d lain on the sofa and put my feet up, I might have felt more tired.

That’s really interesting, so it became a kind of driving force?

Well during my first trimester I was really quite ill, which really panicked me because I thought, ‘This is when I really need to earn money but I’m so tired that I can’t do anything.’ Then I got to my second trimester and had this burst of energy and hormones, so I decided to say yes to everything because I didn’t know when I’d have the chance to do it again. I was performing in a show in Edinburgh; I played a character on a live satirical radio show; I was writing some short stories for a horror publication; I was writing a feature film… things I’d normally say no to! I felt like there was some kind of sedative quality to the hormones that made me feel like everything was going to be alright, or maybe being pregnant gave me some perspective on the fact that it’s only showbiz. There were lots of positives, which I hadn’t foreseen.

And then was the filming quite cathartic in terms of releasing any fear you might have had about pregnancy and birth?

I certainly put the negatives I was feeling into the film. That’s what I hope audiences get from it – a sense of seeing all the stuff that you’re not allowed to do while pregnant being done. It’s a kind of satisfying wish-fulfilment experience. It’s so ironic because childbirth itself is a typical horror-movie thing – violence, screaming, transformation, blood – and yet we think that pregnant women should be mollycoddled. I wanted to show a powerful pregnant woman, because why should we see them as weak when they’re about to go through this huge thing? It was me punching outside the box in more ways than one; not just in terms of the lead character but also myself. I was saying, ‘I can do what I want even though I’m pregnant. Watch what I can do.’
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Do you see the film as having any kind of feminist slant?

I’m a feminist but it’s not a feminist film per se. I don’t like to have too much of an agenda with filmmaking because I want people to make up their own minds. I’m asking questions, I’m not making statements. If anything, my agenda is for men to come to this film and to think, ‘I watched this protagonist and I felt like it was me.’ It was important for me to make a film for everyone; it’s introducing people to the idea that pregnancy is an alien experience whether you’re a woman or a man. I think we often underestimate how little an audience needs to identify with a character in terms of likeability. As an actress I’ve often experienced people saying, ‘Is this character likeable enough?’ but I think today we’re as interested in anti-superheroines as anti-superheroes; there’s something particularly zeitgeisty about it. We like watching people who make dubious moral decisions and you certainly learn a lot more from watching that than from someone doing exactly what you agree with.
Photo: Courtesy of Kaleidoscope Entertainment
What were some of the key references behind the film?

I did a lot of research into classical revenge stories, like the Furies – the goddesses of vengeance [in Greek mythology] – as well as the whole tradition of revenge films. I think the fact that the concept of revenge is thousands of years old is really interesting; it’s a very human dilemma, not something that’s confined to one time or place. I was watching American Psycho the other day – I think that subconsciously influenced me a bit; the office scene in my film is very cold and clinical in that way – but it’s also a lot more prescient than I remember it being. There are comments about Donald Trump all the way through, it’s really weird. It feels like we’re living it now, even though it’s set in the '80s; it’s a world so full of corporate viciousness and the desire for success that people almost think it’s normal or inevitable. I feel like as a filmmaker, you’re trying to channel what’s happening now but with a view to it being about wider issues, so that it’s more timeless.

Which other films inspired you?

I was inspired by Taxi Driver, because you can see it as being symptomatic of male violence or gun culture in America, but most people probably watch the film and identify with [Travis Bickle] because he’s so lonely. That’s why he’s such an iconic figure, because he’s an outsider, kicking against society and we can all relate to that on some level.

What was your favourite part of making the film?

I’m a bit of a film geek: I really like sound design and music, the technical aspects, so it is a film-lover’s film in a sense. People don’t expect that necessarily from a female director. They might assume you’re good at telling stories, or writing dialogue or creating emotion, but I’m there going, ‘Yes but I like the effect of this particular sound design!’ It’s an impressionistic film – a labour-of-love artwork, for me at least – and a lot of that is to do with the fact that it was privately financed and also that I was very much left to my own devices. The editing was quite an intimate process, just me and the editor, and at the end of it we had this really original piece that was unhampered by other people’s opinions. It felt like my own voice came through.

Prevenge is in cinemas nationwide from 10th February.

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