Alice Lowe is one of the most brilliant women on the planet. Writer and co-star of Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, she’s got a blackly comic edge all her own. When combined with the instincts she’s honed through a career as a keen character actress (Lowe’s appeared in everything from Hot Fuzz to Sherlock), her presence is immediately felt on any project she gifts her talents to. Now, Alice is making her feature directorial debut with Prevenge, a typically horrifying and hilarious play on both the slasher and revenge film that sees Ruth (Lowe) – a lonely, pregnant woman – brutalizing seemingly complete strangers in the name of vengeance. It’s a wild, shocking ride that’s all the more impressive once you consider Alice herself was pregnant during the entirety of its conception.
We were lucky enough to chat with Lowe, who was rather frank about the personal nature of the project, and where she gets her sense of humor from…
Birth.Movies.Death: The movie is obviously very personal to you. So tell me – where did the initial idea for Prevenge come from?
Alice Lowe: It’s sort of a chicken and the egg situation. I was pregnant and not planning on making a film at all. I wanted to make a film, but that was something I thought I was going to have to give up when I became pregnant. But I was approached with a financing package – a no-strings-attached type of deal to make a feature film on a low budget. And I was like [groans] “I would love to make a feature film, but I’m pregnant”, so I turned it down. Then I went back and started to think about how I could make it work, because I was scared as a freelancer of having a baby at all. There’s no support net for me. So, I just put all of those fears into an idea for a film; the negatives regarding thinking about the past and the future, combined with darkness and destruction. I pitched it as Prevenge and the producers loved it, but I was like “can we do it in the next two months?” It was really born out of necessity, in a way.
BMD: With both Prevenge and Sightseers, you showcase a really dark sense of humor. Can you talk about your approach to combining gruesome violence with comedy?
AL: That just is my sense of humor. I don’t know if it’s because I’m British and have slightly gothic tendencies, but I seriously don’t know what draws me to it. But I also feel like all of my projects are very personal in a sense because I fall in love with the characters I create. You have to, or else you turn in a really bad performance.
With Prevenge, I didn’t want pregnancy to be a joke. I wanted the pregnancy to be a very dark, sinister, and existential time that Ruth is going through. It’s heavy, and doesn’t need any sort of lightness. So that was the big experiment with this movie – to see if I could turn pregnancy into a dramatic event beyond the usual horror/comedy. Because often childbirth is shown to be funny in film – like “look at this woman, she’s crazy with the hormones” or “ha ha ha, she’s in so much pain.” But I wanted the audience to be inside [Ruth], and feel what she’s feeling somewhat, and wasn’t sure if [viewers] would accept that. It became all about making these gearshifts in tone purposeful so that we never lose the pathos of what’s happening to her.
BMD: I always ask directors who star in their own films how they balance the two duties. Did you have any difficulties crafting Ruth as a character while you’re crafting the film as whole?
AL: I think people get really freaked out when they view you as an “actress turned director”, like that’s some sort of tricky thing to pull off. But I’ve been writing and have produced a bunch of short films with me in the lead. When you work in low-budget filmmaking, you’re used to wearing a lot of different hats, because you’re probably also carrying the equipment and working in the art department or whatever. So, I’ve had a lot of experience in different areas of production, and when I wrote the script, I wrote it for a certain type of economy in terms of how we would make it, and how I could just keep acting without having to stop the flow too much to direct.
We shot the movie in eleven days, and the only way we could’ve done that is because I divided the narrative into a lot of vignettes, so we could shoot those scenes together. If you notice, Ruth keeps wearing a lot of the same costumes in the episodes, so we could save time on wardrobe. A lot of people would be like “oh no, you can’t do that”, but it helped get this movie made.
Decisions like that came from my background in making short films and working with a lot of artists who know how to stay low-budget. Being on set all the time, I feel like I have a sixth sense where the camera is. You always have to have that trust with the DP. These elements really help you lose a sense of vanity and just shoot the movie.
BMD: There are times when the movie feels like a “body horror” picture, but not in the way we’ve come to know that subgenre thanks to [David] Cronenberg. It’s less about physical mutation than it is about the fear Ruth’s feeling in regards to the life inside of her dictating every action.
AL: I love David Cronenberg, and think I could’ve done a little more with what you’re talking about. In a way, my “body horror” became about externalizing the terror she feels on the inside and taking it out on other people. The violence she inflicts on others is somewhat emblematic of what she’s going to endure during birth – the blood, the pain, the screaming. But beyond the idea of another life controlling a person, I wanted to convey the idea of hormones controlling them. [Pregnant women] are always reacting violently to the world around them thanks to this.
During the [opening scene] in the pet shop, I wanted the audience to smell the shop. That’s why I use all of those close-ups and show the stains on the glass and every paw that’s being raised. Because when you’re pregnant, you have these very heightened senses. That’s certainly how I felt. Everything was more vivid, and every emotion was more powerful…like times ten. I wanted the audience to experience that. Again, it’s immersing them in this experiential kind of cinema. I’ve often said that Ruth is a vehicle I want you to climb inside of, so that you can have the same experiences she’s having. It’s this weird, dreamy, sort of nightmarish world she now lives in.
BMD: The nightmarish aspect you’re describing extends to the men who surround her, with the exception of one. They’re all these leering, gross individuals. Can you talk to me about Ruth’s views of men?
AL: I can say it wasn’t really my intention to do that, as I also wanted the women she encounters to be just as horrible. I think when you watch a horror film, or even a film that’s just supposed to be unsettling, as soon as you see a man and a woman, you instantly assume she’s going to be the victim. I wanted to switch that around. Also, I wanted you to think she was just going to kill all men, and then flip that around, as well. Then there’s that one guy you even reference, who is kind of nice. So, I don’t think there’s an agenda, per se, as much as there’s a conscious attempt at subverting tropes – upending societal “types” with an element of satire. What are the sorts of people the baby might hate, and who may present a threat to the baby or Ruth as a pregnant woman?
BMD: Not to get too far into spoiler territory – but do you think Ruth would’ve been OK had [the tragedy she’s revealed to be avenging] not actually happened to her? Or was she unstable before all of this?
AL: One of the questions I’m raising with the film – and I know what I think about it, but wonder what the audience thinks about it – is: does pregnancy change you? Do you suddenly wake up a Stepford Wife once you have a baby? Because that’s the thing you always hear as a pregnant woman: “oh, you’re gonna have a baby, and it’s gonna change you and your whole life.” But you’re just looking at them like, “I don’t want to change. I like who I am.”
I believe you are who you are, regardless of pregnancy. And if you’re asking me if I think Ruth still might’ve committed these crimes, I think she probably would have. But it’s up for the audience to decide what they think, given some of the ambiguities I worked into the script and the film. Because again, I was pregnant while made this, asking myself the same question I didn’t know the answers to: was I going to wake up the same person the day after my baby was born?
Prevenge is now available to stream exclusively on Shudder.