In 1968 we received Rosemary’s Baby. It was the film that established Roman Polanski’s ability to bring madness onto screen and placed Mia Farrow as the paranoid mother, unknowingly carrying Satan’s spawn through nine months of fear and mental ruin. It was a landmark film, exploring the psyche and anxiety of an expecting mother.
In 2017 we get Prevenge, a film where a literal voice instructs a pregnant woman to commit a series of murders.
Prevenge is an antenatal thriller comedy from the dry wit of British director Alice Lowe. It’s about as obscure as a film genre can get and follows Ruth (Alice Lowe), a pregnant woman who mourns the death of her partner. She sets out into British suburbia to hunt down those who have chosen to reject children from their lives, guided by the voice of her unborn child.
The film takes a formulaic approach to comedy. Ruth finds her suspect, she initiates conversation (typically regarding children), her unborn child interrupts with a monologue that ushers Ruth to murder the victim, which she does, and then Ruth fires off some one-liners that demonstrate how apathetic she is to the act she’s committed.
It’s an unoriginal concept that would be entirely humourless if it weren’t for the quality of writing in some of the post-murder scenes. After driving a knife into the chest of a suburban woman who had refused to donate to children charities, Ruth instructs her to breath to help with the pain, taking shallow successive breaths; ironic from a pregnant woman not far from labour.
This quality of writing does not extend to the plot or the characters. At times it’s almost like the film is trying to add merit to Ruth’s prenatal madness. Scenes where she displays candour to her midwife, telling her that she believes the child is already telling her what to do, and when she considers whether she should keep the child, fail to provoke any empathy.
The characters mostly pass through the film without any impact. Although the dialogue exchanges are well written, you never have a sense that they’re anything more than a narrative device, and that their demise is shortly waited.
Alice Lowe is clearly a talented comedian. She delivers the lines so naturally that it appears she has developed the film on her dry wit alone. Considering too that Alice was actually pregnant throughout the film, her performance is clever, if at times a little edgy. The rest of the cast however, seem as if they’ve been placed into her world unwilling, with especially poor voice acting from ‘the baby’ making the monologues a little hard to sit through.
It may just be that that’s the point; that the film is supposed to have some high school drama lack of polish. It’s as awkward as the characters and performances that fill it, and with exception to some funny moments, a film that achieves the difficult feat of lacking originality in a genre so niche, it could be the only film of its kind this decade.
Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Prevenge screened last month at SXSW and is now available in the USA through Shudder.