“Listen, Mommy. That’s how I was made.”
Television actresses retain a sense of job security film actresses don’t when pregnant. Productions can work around this natural life choice with wardrobe, blocking, and script alterations. You can’t simply be cut loose once your casting has become an integral piece of the overall work. In Hollywood, however, combating close-minded prejudices, insurance issues, and blatant sexism is the norm. Alice Lowe found this out first-hand, her attempts at securing jobs with her pregnant belly proving a futile exercise. Refusing to relent she decided to take the experience to heart by channeling it creatively into an original project wherein her unborn fetus would become the second lead. So while Prevenge is a comedic slasher on the surface, it’s really a brilliantly conceived satire on society’s pig-headed selfishness.
We therefore watch Ruth (Lowe) continue down a road of homicidal rage and violence at the behest of her child. First it’s Mr. Zabek’s (Dan Renton Skinner) pet shop owner—a skeevy man replete with sexual innuendo that may in fact be uttered unintentionally. Next is the crude, egocentric momma’s boy DJ Dan (Tom Davis)—a man oozing enough misguided confidence to be oblivious to his position on the dating food chain as dictated by his utter lack of basic moral decency. They’re two very unsavory figures who care only about self-pleasure through bad jokes, worse actions, and a complete disregard for the needs or desires presented by this woman in their midst. The baby relishes in dispatching both without remorse, Ruth complying as her surrogate with knife in-hand.
The fetus dismisses these creatures of ill repute as the kind of callous people responsible for taking her father (Marc Bessant‘s Matt) away. Their equals let society fall apart as long as their wellbeing remains intact. They look at the bottom-line through a utilitarian lens and cut the fat in order to save enough money to increase profits as well as their own salary in the process. And baby isn’t one to be sexist insofar as whom she targets either. Just because the idea of a chauvinist male is easier to conjure and seek out doesn’t mean there aren’t those like Ella (Kate Dickie), a career-oriented businesswoman who’s quick to speak from the side of her mouth to pretend her crass judgments and bigoted policies aren’t her own.
We witness Ruth embracing the carnage—for reasons yet explained as far as a more concrete connection to lump these specific victims together—and fearing it. She’s willing to do her baby’s bidding because it can be personally justified. But when someone who might be the exception to prove the rule unluckily finds himself caught in her wrathful path (Mike Wozniak‘s Josh), this steely-demeanor of acceptance risks falling apart. It’s at times like these when the baby must remind her mother who’s truly in the driver’s seat. Because as Ruth’s midwife (Jo Hartley) jokingly explains without the faintest clue as to how accurate and un-metaphorical her words actually are, Mommy relinquishes control of body and mind to the fetus. It demands food, rest, and care. It delivers pain.
Ruth is driven to the edge of sanity as a result. Is the baby really talking to her or is the voice merely a manifestation of this mother-to-be’s psychological state of isolation and vengeance? The only person who is in a position to help is the midwife, but her own attempts at levity undercut her authority and may in fact transform her into a threat/potential victim too. The disconnect between what Ruth tells her and their distinctly different interpretations of those words push them farther apart in some respects and closer in others. What the midwife says back then becomes warped through the filter of Ruth’s singular ordeal. Does she have the power of choice? Is this path of serial murder worth the increased amount of collateral suffering?
These are the questions that become more prevalent as Ruth moves forward—her kill list growing smaller as the impending labor approaches. The crimes become more personal as recognition creeps in, circumstances grow complex, and danger towards her and baby escalates. Tom (Kayvan Novak) becomes the man at the pyramid’s top, a ringleader of sorts that the fetus holds responsible for her specific pain and generically as an example of the world’s ever-growing sense of apathy. Will his death solve anything? Could it end up making matters worse? The baby hopes she can drive Ruth to do it sooner rather than later because her hold will sever once she’s born. Then it will be up to Ruth to decide—whether or not she’s been deciding from the start.
This could all add up to a dramatic film if Lowe preferred, one placing us into the disorienting headspace of grief and rage. While doing so would have made a worthwhile piece, however, the abundant use of effective laugh-out-loud comedy to subvert her horror makes it more so. This tone allows the baby to speak with biting sarcasm and acidic bile, fostering a delightfully demented juxtaposition. It lets us compare and contrast the boorishness of Davis (who hilariously takes disgusting to new levels) against Wozniak’s over-the-top empathetic compassion (a trait the baby hates almost as much). And the dialogue between Lowe’s Ruth and Dickie’s Ella—the former’s mocking tone and the latter’s obliviousness to it—is only rivaled by the physical sparring between Ruth and Gemma Whelan‘s Len’s.
Things can get redundant as Ruth moves down her list, but Lowe adds enough to each kill to hold our interest. Each subsequent target brings us closer to underlying the truth, her “lies” to approach them proving easier with experience. Lowe is the star, shouldering both the emotion and humor necessary to traverse every new encounter with bolstered confidence despite the scenarios growing more unpredictable. Hartley’s midwife is my favorite part, however—her seemingly daft inability to read the room revealed as pure authenticity attempting to reach her patients. Beneath her façade is a sharp, sympathetic professional who understands Ruth’s chaos even if she’s shrouded from its particulars. She ultimately provides Ruth an escape, something that renders the final shot more perfect than it already is by itself.
courtesy of TIFF