With a portmanteau title that’s a composite of ‘pregnancy’ and ‘revenge’, Prevenge’s horror comedy wheelhouse lands somewhere between American Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby. Writer/director Alice Lowe, heavily pregnant herself at the time of filming, plays an expectant mother driven to murder at her unborn child’s demonic insistence. The evil offspring exercises its will by peevishly griping at mother Ruth until she just gives up and gets the job done.
Alice Lowe’s deadpan appeal has slow-burned so effectively with audiences since 2012’s Sightseers that perhaps she’s soon to hold household name status. And rightly so. Fresh from her faultlessly funny turn as Lisa in 2016 gem Black Mountain Poets, Lowe’s darkly comic talent is on reliably uproarious form.
The Antichrist; various hellspawn; gestating xenomorphs; cannibalistic kindergartners; white-haired, hived-minded telepaths; cornfield dwelling occultists, the preteen that’s vengeance incarnate as a VHS tape – children in horror really don’t give their parents, or anyone else, an easy time of it. But they do give cinematic audiences a lot of good (and bad) quality horror mileage. Generally, they want to spin the world off its axis, bring about the apocalypse, do away with their long-suffering parents in some gratuitously nasty way or just plain eat everyone in sight.
This tot’s aims are fairly trifling in comparison, just a run-of-the-mill killing spree of characters who we feel pretty much deserve it. About twenty minutes in it almost seems like civic duty to dispatch this set of particularly greasy modern evils in human form. They almost certainly wouldn’t give pregnant mother Ruth (Lowe) a seat on the tube, for example, and that’s part of what makes Prevenge’s violence so gratifyingly funny.
Ruth’s unborn offspring is part petulant toddler, “I don’t want a new Daddy” part eldritch Lovecraftian entity “He who was to be our prey, hath ‘scaped us”. What’s clear is that Ruth’s high-pitched pre-natal passenger has a bloodlust that no Lamaze or hypnobirthing class will be holistically healing enough to staunch. In fact, all that beaming Earth Mother advice is this foetus’ kryptonite, and it begs not to be subjected to whale sounds or yogic stretching until in one scene Ruth lets out a bloodcurdling scream of rage.
There are no jump cuts here, big scares give away to gore, gross-out humour and Hammer Horror spookiness. Lowe’s harried parent routine as she grumblingly acquiesces to murder makes for great movie-going, as does bickering mother-child dialogue like “Children these days are really spoiled. Mummy I want a playstation. Mummy I want you to kill that man for me”. There’s plenty of abject body horror to be had too and the alienation and compromise of autonomy that pregnancy brings clearly isn’t lost on Lowe. Her maternal health worker doesn’t help much, “Just so you know, you have absolutely no control over your mind or your body anymore. This one does, she’s got all the control now.”
Like 2015’s The Babadook, in Prevenge we find a pitch black yet poignant story of bereavement’s psychic shadow. But while The Babadook’s phantasm of grief and hatred was external, this one’s all in-utero.
Lowe’s largely played for laughs tale never lacks depth or intelligence and is undoubtedly 2017’s best evil baby story by far.
Words by Cormac O’Brien