After co-writing and starring in the indie hit that was 2012’s Sightseers, and going on to charm audiences in the strange and lovely Black Mountain Poets (2015), it seems fair to say that Alice Lowe’s directorial debut would meet with high expectations. Fans of her zany, surreal and hilariously gory work will be glad to know that Prevenge is a glorious 90-minute attack on the senses, that never leads quite where one expects.
Lowe’s heroine is a pregnant widow, hell-bent on seeking bloody vengeance for an event that is slowly and fragmentally revealed. This is Kill Bill – if The Bride liked to curl up with crisps and a film, and the assassins were sleazy DJs and boring businesswomen. Much like in Tarantino’s work, the violence throughout Prevenge is treated theatrically, and the audience joins Ruth from murder to grizzly murder with a grim fascination.
Where the film veers away from previous classics is in its focus on the mundane as much as the spectacular. In an oddly poignant moment, Ruth lovingly tucks an elderly woman into bed whose son she has murdered. Prevenge’s protagonist is not your typical cold-blooded killer; there is something quietly warm in Lowe’s performance, and the film challenges countless stereotypes about pregnancy, motherhood and womanhood itself.
The bittersweet comedy that runs through the script is met with strong performances from the entire cast, with special mention going to Jo Hartley as the firm but kind midwife, and Tom Davis as the frankly vile DJ Dan.
Davis’ character is almost ridiculous in his repulsiveness, but Lowe’s script taps into characters that audiences will often recognise from their own lives – in a way, DJ Dan is every sleazy music-type that ever regurgitated the techniques of a pickup artist, and the audience is delighted to see Kate Dickie’s office exec attempt to replace her lack of personality with skydiving weekends. Sharp observational comedy meets abstract twists and turns, and the laughs and gasps come in equal, generous measures.
Lowe is the first to admit that the film is not perfect – after all, it was shot in only eleven days on a shoestring budget, with minimal equipment – but what her work certainly is, is startlingly original. Pushing the boundaries of genre and occasionally, taste, Prevenge is unsettlingly thrilling from start to finish.
Image: Zoe Flower