Prevenge is a deeply messed up movie about a pregnant woman who goes on a killing spree under the guidance of her unborn child. Ruth hears her baby speaking from the womb, encouraging her to track down unsuspecting strangers, and then kill them in a variety of horrendously violent ways.
Yet while that sounds horrific, in reality the film is blackly comic. That’s because it’s both written and directed by Alice Lowe, one half of the Sightseers duo, and a brilliantly funny actress who has appeared in the likes of Hot Fuzz, Paddington and Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place.
Alice came up with the idea while pregnant, and both directed and starred in the film just a few weeks before she was due to give birth. Here she tells the remarkable story behind her twisted tale.
Fandom: When did the idea for Prevenge come to you?
Alice Lowe: Basically it came out of me being pregnant. A director called Jamie Adams directed me in a film called Black Mountain Poets, which was a five-day shoot, and I really enjoyed that. But it was so completely off the top of our heads – improvised and written so quickly – that he came to me and said: ‘Do you want to do another one?’
Initially I turned it down. Then I went away and thought: ‘What if I did play a pregnant character? If I did that, I’d want it to be somehow different from anything that I’d seen onscreen before’. And for a long time, I’d talked about how there was a lack of female, maverick, outsider characters. You very much get female characters supporting the structure of society rather than tearing it down, and I wanted someone who was tearing it down. So I just sort of merged those two notions really, and came up with this pregnancy revenge idea.
Fandom: Did something specific happen to trigger the idea and make you think that a pregnant woman could get away with murder?
Alice: No. But I suddenly felt that people were really, really kind, but in a way that I felt like: ‘God, if people were this kind all the time, the world would be a better place’. So, partly, I was blown away by how kind people could be and how nice they could be. And I’m thinking: ‘Well, I might be an utter c**t’ you know? Just because I’m pregnant, it doesn’t mean I’m a nice person. It doesn’t mean the baby’s going to be a nice person either.
But at the same time, the flip-side of that is you can get quite patronised and quite infantilised, and it’s like you’ve lost your identity by becoming this mother. It’s like suddenly you are this person because: ‘I’m making you be that person; I’m making you into this martyr-ish, kind, self-sacrificial person because that’s the way I’m going to treat you’. And some part of me felt like: ‘Oh, I don’t want that. Why are you imposing that on me?’
So, I was definitely going through some kind of personal crisis in my mind of how to deal with pregnancy and how to deal with what I felt was potential loss of identity, which I think for anyone who is a writer or creator in any way, is quite a terrifying thing. Who am I going to be on the other side of this? What if I’m a ‘Stepford Wife’ that’s become a different person altogether? What if I’m not interested in horror anymore? What if I’m not interested in weird obscure soundtracks anymore? I didn’t know what the future held, so there was a sense where there was a crisis happening to me that I put into the film.
Fandom: Did you read or watch anything specific before writing?
Alice: Yeah, definitely. I had been writing a film about motherhood – though not like Prevenge. I’d been to see and been reading lots of things that they call ‘female Hamlet’. So Ibsen and Hedda Gabler and lots of plays about motherhood.
So, motherhood was an issue in my head that I’d been thinking about a lot, and Medea and all those sorts of things. But when I started working on Prevenge, I started thinking much more about revenge and revenge narratives, and classical goddesses of fury.
I started reading things like Hobbs; reading stuff about how we think about society and how we think about the individual. That’s what I got interested in – we’re nice to babies, why don’t we apply the same treatment to everyone? And also when you have a child, you’re relying on society to look after your child. You’re suddenly going: ‘Right, I’m going to put this being out into the world, are people going to look after it? Are they going to be nice to it?’
So, I started thinking about society and how people have become more selfish in society. People like Hobbs say that man is naturally violent and it’s only because society has these very delicate, fragile contracts of good behaviour that we don’t just kill each other and steal from each other all the time. And I just kind of thought this character is someone who has witnessed that contract being broken and is also going to break it themselves.
Fandom: Were any of the Look Who’s Talking films an influence?
Alice: [Laughs] The second one. Because she’s pregnant with another one so that’s the creepy one. Number one’s alright but number two is evil.
Fandom: When you were writing the script did you do much research into things like pre-natal depression?
Alice: I didn’t because it’s not really about that. It’s more about grief really. It’s someone who is grieving, but you could take that as a metaphor for a loss of identity – someone who is losing a part of themselves, or has lost a part of themselves, and she’s trying to regain some sort of control over her life.
But there’s no psychological basis for it anywhere. I more looked at women who had maybe lost a partner while they were pregnant. The interesting, strange cocktail of emotions that that creates within someone. To be experiencing birth when they’ve just experienced death. That was really interesting and useful.
But for me, it was taking what I think is quite a normal existential crisis for most women, but bringing it into the open. It’s not anything specifically medical she’s going through, it’s more of an allegory about my thinking it’s okay to have those fears, but nobody really talks about it in the mainstream media. People don’t give time to it because it’s this thing: ‘Come on, childbirth’s natural – why would you be worried about it?’ And women are just supposed to get on with it and put up with it and be martyr-ish, and earth mother-ish.
There’s plenty of things like Hamlet – people dwelling on the death of a father or something. But it’s men going through this experience of loss or grieving or transformation, and I didn’t think there were enough narratives about women doing that. Especially not in cinema.
Fandom: It’s interesting how the violence in the movie makes people uncomfortable, but the birth that’s featured seems to make the audience squirm even more.
Alice: What I didn’t want to do was do the stereotypical giving birth scene which is often not very believable. I didn’t want to shy away from birth, I wanted to shove it in people’s faces so they don’t have time to look away. I think it’s that thing of going: ‘This is the reality of it – if you watched those murders, then you’re going to watch this, because this is the violence that’s happening to her.’
All of this violence that she’s perpetrating is because she knows there’s going to be violence happening to her own body. She’s not in control. I felt like the violence was a metaphor for the brutality of birth, the goriness that doesn’t get shown onscreen. When do you ever see blood in a birth scene?
Fandom: What was your favourite kill to write or perform?
Alice: I really enjoyed the physicality that Kate Dickie brought to her scene, because she’s a theatre actor as well as a screen actor and she brought a fearlessness to it. She was like: ‘Just go for it’ and I was like: ‘I can’t knock Kate Dickie’s head on a table – I might hurt her.’ Sort of apologising to her as I did it. We didn’t really hurt her, it was the way that she just threw herself in it and really sold that moment.
When you make a low-budget film you have a wish-list that you don’t normally get, but I can honestly say that my wish-list of exciting shots we did get. We laughed a lot during the DJ Dan kill, which is a bit sinister when you know what happens in that scene. But it was just such an absurd situation, with Tom Davis, who is like 6ft 7, in his underpants, and me stroking his thigh with a bit of cardboard.
Fandom: Do you see the film as a companion piece to Sightseers?
Alice: I kind of think it’s related. That it’s a sibling maybe. A half-sibling. It doesn’t have completely the same parents. But yeah, of course it’s related, because it’s got one of the same writers. At the moment I’m quite interested in these female characters.
I don’t know if I’m always going to have a female protagonist – it’s something that comes quite naturally to me, obviously, because I’m a woman, but it’s not something that I only want to do. At some point I might want to do something that’s more of a group piece.
But who knows that the future might bring? It’s like the Coen brothers, though – I would like to think that the work that I’m doing, whether it’s surreal or whatever it is, operates in the same universe. I often think that about the Coen brothers. What they do, you know it’s a Coen brothers film. Even if it’s comedy, or horror, it’s within the same universe.
Fandom: Have you had any extreme reactions to the film?
Alice: I keep waiting for it and it keeps not happening. Actually, someone in the Evening Standard today said: ‘A low blow for the broody’ – that was the way they couched it. Maybe they were trying to find a different angle or something. But they were like: ‘If you’re pregnant or you’re thinking of having a baby, maybe you don’t want to go and see this film.’ But then it was based on a quote I said which was like: ‘This might be good contraception for Valentine’s Day because you’ll be put off wanting a baby after watching this film.’
Oh, and a Fundamentalist Christian website said that it was an abomination. They hadn’t seen it, they’d just heard about it, and what a disgusting representation of pregnancy, which is the most miraculous thing in the world, and someone’s made the baby a killer. Which I thought was brilliant.
Fandom: Now that she’s made it into the world, what does your baby daughter think of the film?
Alice: She’s watched it a million, billion times. It’s like a lullaby to her. She’s been in the edit and stuff like that. I don’t know – it’s just like wallpaper to her. At some point she’ll watch it properly when she actually understands such things.
Fandom: We’ve talked about the influences on Prevenge, but what were your influences and Fandoms growing up?
Alice: I used to love things like Quantum Leap – every Thursday. I loved a bit of sci-fi. Red Dwarf. I watched everything. I watched everything and anything I could get my hands on. All the comedies – American, English. Cheers. Vic and Bob. Anything that was an import. The original Star Trek series. All the weird b-movies that came on BBC2 and Channel 4 – all the weird films and the Hammer films. I’d watch anything!
‘Prevenge’ is in UK cinemas now. Plus, you can watch Alice Lowe’s exclusive selection of horror films for Shudder, also available now.