What if you were pregnant and your unborn child could talk to you, not just in the sense of having a craving, but rather offering up ideas and concepts in fully formed sentences (telepathically)? The very concept is unnerving. Now, what if the thoughts being offered up were of murder and hate? Then the concept goes from unnerving to something truly dark.
Or, maybe it goes to being a comedy. Maybe it goes to being so over the top as to be undeniably, laugh out loud, humorous.
Wonder which way such an idea might lean no longer. It has been put on film in Alice Lowe’s “Prevenge,” where it becomes unnerving, truly dark, and a comedy. Lowe is writer, director (this is her first feature), and star of the film, taking on the role of pregnant serial killer, Ruth. And, because that’s not all difficult enough, she was in fact actually pregnant during the filming.
Rereading it, it feels like the above description may not seem like quite enough of a way to explain the movie (“wait, this is about a pregnant serial killer whose fetus orders her to kill and it’s kind of a comedy and kind of really upsetting?”). Yet, after watching the movie, it feels perfect. But, for those craving something more intricate than that brief sketch…
Over the course of the film we get to know Ruth. While she is, at times, seemingly a nice enough person, she is also clearly quite unhinged. We figure that out early on as we see her kill a shopkeeper. Soon enough, a childlike voice speaks to her and it is clear that the voice is emanating from Ruth’s womb. The fetus wants her to kill. It wants her to kill everyone who may have been responsible for the fetus’ father’s death, and as over the course of “Prevenge” we get a good idea of just how the man passed away.
Ruth, it must be noted, isn’t a wholly bad person. She does occasionally try to resist these calls for bloody death, and is moderately concerned that the baby might be taken away from her after its born. But, her will is not her own.
Part of the brilliance of the film is that there is actually a question in the audience’s mind about just what is going on with Ruth. Is she crazy or is this the sort of film in which an unborn child can actually project thoughts into a person’s mind and get them to commit multiple acts of murder? And, even if we can agree that murder is wrong (and I hope we can), might the people whom Ruth is going after truly have been responsible for her boyfriend’s death? Might they be deserving of not death, but some sort of comeuppance?
Is Ruth evil? Is she unhinged? Is she in need of mental help, a goodly long time in a cell, or an exorcism? As Ruth goes through a disturbing homemade baby book describing those who must pay for the perceived sins, the audience wonders just what it is that we are all watching.
Clearly the concept itself is not the generator of the laughs in the film. That instead comes from the dialogue, which is biting, and the victims, whom we never see for long, but are all quirky and sort of pathetically real.
Truly the amazing thing about the movie is Lowe’s ability to perfectly juggle the bloody, disgusting, truly upsetting parts of the movie with those that make one laugh out loud. “Prevenge” is never herky-jerky moving from one extreme to the next. Instead, it deftly goes back and forth, doing so quickly enough that if your mind wanders for a second there is a fear of missing either a joke or something that should keep you from sleeping that night.
Even if you don’t miss a moment, upon finishing “Prevenge” there is a sense that it never quite explores Ruth as much as it should. By keeping us guessing about just what is taking place with the character, the only character we spend a significant time with in the movie, our picture of her winds up slightly too hazy—slightly too distant—for it to feel complete.
“Prevenge” isn’t for the faint of heart – it isn’t exceptionally bloody, but it stays with you once you’ve finished watching. It is an odd concept which is executed in wonderful fashion, turning an idea that maybe shouldn’t work into a fascinating movie.
photo credit: Shudder