Actress Alice Lowe is best known as a feature player in Edgar Wright productions like Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. Her debut feature as a writer and director is notable not only for bringing that Edgar Wright-friendly sense of humor into the realm of a high-concept slasher, but for also being a Herculean feat of physicality & filmmaking efficiency. Lowe directs and stars in Prevenge herself while seven months pregnant, filming all of the project’s principal photography in just eleven days. I’d usually find that kind of microbudget production efficiency impressive in a Roger Corman kind of way no matter what, but Lowe’s very visible late-pregnancy state and dual roles on either side of the camera raises the bar on that already inherent filmmaking badassery. Lowe’s real life pregnancy also affords Prevenge an amusing sense of authenticity you don’t typically see in high concept horror comedies. Pregnancy anxiety drives a lot of the humor and the terror at work in Prevenge and there’s something transgressive about Lowe’s pouring so much of herself into that central driving force, especially once it accumulates a body count.
Lowe stars as a single mother who murders total strangers at the command of the voice in her head, a high-pitched, cartoony presence that seems to be broadcasting from the fetus growing inside her. As a tag team, the mother & her unborn, bloodthirsty daughter initially seem to be on a vigilante mission against modern culture, like in the Katie Holmes comedy Miss Meadows or the excellent psychological horror Felt. The mother slits the throats of the creepy men who hit on her and the women who systematically keep her down (including a heartless business executive played by The Witch‘s Kate Dickie) in what appears to acts of moral vigilantism. The familial pair of killers aren’t choosing their victims at random, however, and the source of the perceived wrong they strive to correct through bloodshed (almost always by knife) is gradually revealed through a series of flashbacks. This sets up two parallel races against the clock that might prevent their revenge mission from being fulfilled: the impending birth of the child and the possibility of someone discovering the connection between the victims before they’re all disposed of.
Prevenge is strongest in its first act, when it takes satirical aim at the ways we discuss the nature of pregnancy. When doctors assure the pregnant mother/ruthless killer, “Baby knows what to do. Baby will tell you what to do,” it’s doubtful they mean that a literal voice will come from the fetus with demands to stab strangers to death in their own living rooms. There’s some real-life tension seated in that dynamic too, which includes lines like, “It’s like the baby’s driving and I’m just the vehicle.” Prevenge can feel delightfully transgressive in these moments, but once it pulls away from natal care satire and settles more into a traditional slasher formula, its tone begins to soften, meander, and fade. The mystery of the absent father and the connection between the seemingly unrelated victims isn’t nearly as interesting as the more pointed critiques lobbed against the ways modern medicine treats pregnancy as well as legitimate anxieties over forfeiting your mind and body to the wants and needs of a new being growing inside you, possibly with murderous intent.
As a filmmaker, Alice Lowe shows immense promise here. There’s great specificity in the imagery of her various set pieces, from the reptile predators of a pet shop to a sparsely attended disco night at a dive bar to the fancy dress costumes of a Halloween party. Her screenplay is wickedly funny in its best moments as well, like when the foul-mouthed fetus comments on her mother’s nextdoor neighbors loudly fucking, “Listen, Mommy! That’s how I was made,” or when Kate Dickie’s heartless business executive explains, “We’ve had to make some really harsh cuts. It’s a cutthroat world.” She also, smartly, refuses to turn away from the brutality of her staged mother-daughter kills, making for a very bloody version of a modern horror comedy. I do think Prevenge loses some focus once it shifts from satirical pregnancy horror to psychological murder mystery, but I was mostly impressed here by how Lowe pulled off such a successfully slick, icily funny picture on such a miniscule budget and so late in her own pregnancy. She managed to make a no-budget horror comedy into a strikingly personal, visually memorable work, which is no small feat for a first time filmmaker.