Review: Prevenge (2016)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #779

Number of Views: One
Release Date: May 15, 2016 (Cannes)
Sub-Genre: Black Comedy/Body Horror
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Alice Lowe
Producer: Jennifer Handorf
Screenplay: Alice Lowe
Special Effects: Jessica Cheetham
Cinematography: Ryan Eddleston
Score: Toydrum (Pablo Clements and James Griffith)
Editing: Matteo Bini
Studios: Gennaker, Western Edge Pictures
Distributor: Kaliedoscope
Stars: Alice Lowe, Jo Hartley, Tom Davis, Kayvan Novak Kayvan Novak, Eileen Davies, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Tom Meeten, Renton Skinner, Sara Dee, Mike Wozniak, Leila Hoffman, Marc Bessant

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] The Ides of March “Vehicle”

[2] T-Connection “Do What You Wanna Do”

[3] Toydrum “Soundtrack Preview”

Most mothers will know precisely What to Expect When You’re Expecting. However, for those either lacking a womb or the time on their hands to Google ridiculous little-known facts like I do, here are a handful of pregnancy related doozies to commence our term. For example, were you aware that the only scientifically proven method of inducing labour entails stimulation of the nipples? That one reported pregnancy dragged on for in excess of a full calendar year? That an unborn baby commences construction of its very first poop way back at the second trimester? That it is around this time when the fetus also begins to urinate in the uterus. Then they drink it, pee some more, guzzle that down too and repeat this process right up until the flood gates finally open. You see, there’s a great deal more to getting knocked up than chubby ankles and an unexplained craving for gherkins and ice cream.

I could tell a thousand horror stories but the fact remains that there are few more life-enriching pursuits than entering into the family way, at least, that’s what they say in the focus groups. I can but speculate wildly on how it must feel to have a life growing inside you; to forge a connection with the most precious gift that life can donate and be solely responsible for its safekeeping. Of course, this means buckling to the odd request along the way as baby has needs too and no way of providing for itself on the whim front. This ordinarily amounts to little more than mild dietary adjustments or perhaps a certain audio to be played as lullabies. But things have been known to get a little ectopic on the demand front so to speak.

Take poor Ruth for example. If she’s lacking a little of the customary rosy glow of a woman in her third trimester, then it would likely have something to do with all the pent-up grief she is currently burdened with in addition to the contents of her pronounced baby bump. You see, Ruth’s beloved other and baby-making tag-team partner has recently come something of a cropper during an ill-fated climbing expedition and plummeted to his untimely death, leaving parental duties under her sole jurisdiction. Worse still, it appears that the whole tragedy could have been avoided, had his spotters not taken the agonizing decision to cut him loose that day. As a result, her unborn baby will never know its father, and hell hath no fury like a fetus diddled.

Speaking in a tongue that curiously resembles Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter films, she who must be obeyed makes it abundantly clear to Ruth what must be done in order to redress the balance. A good ticking off just won’t do, not after such an unforgivable display to team negligence. Instead, it is Ruth’s sole charge to track down each of the thrill seekers in turn and make them pay a princely sum for stealing her daddy away in his prime. The exasperated mother to be sums it up beautifully when she moans “kids these days are really spoiled… its like ‘mummy, I want a Playstation, mummy, I want you to kill that man”, although she is powerless not to honor this request as she won’t catch a wink of sleep until she does.

Straight from the get-go, we are left under no illusion as to precisely what Ruth is capable of as she swiftly and nonchalantly dispatches a creepy pet store owner desperate to show her his “big snake”. What plays out from here is essentially a long string of sketches as, one by one, those deemed responsible are snuffed out unceremoniously. Victims include a hard-nosed executive, an exercise nut, and my own personal favorite, a lecherous seventies disco DJ whose party tricks include spouting lines such as “I fucking love fat birds… you don’t mind what people do to you” before puking up in his Afro wig and leaning in for a cheeky drunken snog. Just to show she’s not a heartless monster, Ruth even has the decency to tuck his senile mother in after delving beneath his overhang and relieving him of his Johnson.

However, all this cold-blooded murder soon takes its toll, and Ruth remains mindful of her number one priority as there’s still the small matter of the end of her term to get through unscathed. That means regular visits to her smiling assassin of a midwife, who appears to have a degree in condescension and warrants being snuffed out on principal alone. It is here, during the rare occasions that a valid point is made, that we are provided glimpses of Ruth’s vulnerability from beneath her acidic quips. She may be a killer, and a heartless one at that, but ultimately she’s a seven-month pregnant widow with severe unresolved grief issues and one helluva post-natal depression heading her way like a none too distant storm.

Prevenge is a jet black number, ironically of a similar hue to a baby’s first diaper deposit, and mines its comedy from the deepest, darkest depths of human depravity. That in itself is reason to throw first time director Alice Lowe a baby shower. You see, not only does she get to yell “mark it”, but she also wrote the screenplay and plays the titular role of Ruth, stunningly I might add.

Her deadpan delivery is in danger of becoming quite literal as she drags her burgeoning baby bump from pillar to post, during her third trimester I hasten to add. How on God’s earth she managed this amidst all those raging hormones, I have absolutely no clue, and the Academy may wish to recognize Best Performance by a Pregnant Woman next year as I’m reasonably assured she’d be a shoo-in for the gong.

Evidently there’s a lot of Lowe in Ruth, no doubt inclusive of the overbearing frustration of impending motherhood and every last ache and pain that comes as part of the package deal. However, it’s far from a topical punt in the dark as attested by her involvement in Ben Wheatley’s 2012 caravan caper Sightseers, which she both co-wrote and starred in.

The two films actually make delightful companion pieces as both get their jollies from ghastly comedies of errors and share the same bleak outlook and perverse tone,. Certain jokes may be a little premature, others overbaked, but Lowe’s performance is pitched just right throughout and calls to mind the great Patrick Bateman with a biological clock and stomach cramps. Trust me when I say, compliments don’t come much larger than that one.

I mentioned Prevenge resembling a patchwork of sketches earlier and that may or may not appeal to your personal sensibilities. However, it’s no accident that the cast includes the likes of Tom Davis and Kayvan Novak – both successful British comics in their own right, and while the latter plays is straight down the line here, Davis bolts straight off the leash in unforgettably cringeworthy fashion.

Should you wish to dig deeper, then it also works as a metaphorical take on pre and postnatal depression, although I’m not totally convinced Lowe’s approach was that pre-meditated. I’m more inclined to believe that, like the little one kicking her right through shooting, she just desired to birth this beast and was happy to leave baby names until afterwards.

Prevenge is an extraordinary work and just what the industry needs right now, with equal opportunities for women in cinema very much on the agenda. However, what is most remarkable is that, not only has Lowe shown herself to be both a skillful screenwriter and filmmaker, but you have to give her immense props for putting her body and mind through the ringer for the sake of her art. How it fares up in the long run, only time will tell, but one thing’s for damn sure. In Ruth, she provides us one of the most memorable characters in recent cinematic memory, and she did it all with swollen ankles and sore areolæ. Now if that’s not commitment, then I’ve clearly been reading the wrong baby book.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Not overly gory although those in possession of male genitalia may feel one particularly messy scene right in the love spuds. Throats are slashed, knives plunged, and Lowe focuses more on the aftermath than the act itself. As for skin, well I’m sure I’m not alone in finding pregnant women hugely sexy. I only wish she’d have filmed the bath tub scene during her second trimester. Stupid killjoy babies obscuring our view. That said, judging by those no-nonsense nipples, I’d say she’s right about ready to express. I’m going to hell, aren’t I? See you there.

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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