Sometimes it feels like our babies, even before birth, are intent on taking over everything, our bodies and our minds. Factor in the increasing number of ways mothers-to-be are told their needs must always be secondary to those of their unborn children and it’s no surprise that we’ve now got a film which pushes this idea to the max.
Prevenge is a very funny but often very bleak film about a pregnant woman killing at the behest of her child. Exhausted pregnant women are often matter of fact, with no headspace for social niceties, and that permeates the whole film: whether concerning new life (“that’s how I was made! Well you can forget about that ever happening again” says the baby in her mother’s head as they listen to the people in the upstairs flat shagging); or death (“You’re getting better at this” she encourages, once the killings start).
Ruth (Alice Lowe) has lost her partner in an accident several months before and – now heavily pregnant – she embarks on a killing spree around bland suburban streets, on the orders of her in utero baby girl, who speaks to her (though orders her around might be a better description).
An enthusiastic if not very conscientious killer, Ruth leaves more prints than a villain in Scooby Doo, and when she’s not planning the imperfect murder she is at endless midwife appointments. (The midwife – played by Jo Hartley – can be annoying but she’s bang on about the involuntary milk squirting.)
All of Ruth’s victims are guilty in her eyes, though some are more unpleasant than others. When Dan the misogynistic DJ (Tom Davis) meets his match in Ruth, I must admit to rather cheering her on (Dan is the kind of man whose insults are so direct one wonders if he knows he’s actually speaking out loud then you realise that yes of course he does: “I fucking love fat birds… you’ve got a little bit more about you, you’re a little bit more open-minded so you don’t mind what people do to you, do you?”)
Her name is interesting – Ruth is in theory the opposite of ruthless and women are supposed to kind and loving especially where babies are concerned. But ruthless she is. Though Ruth is also a victim in this, driven as she is by all-consuming grief. In fact she’s drowning in grief, barely able to do more than get dressed and follow her baby’s direction as she stomps in a haze of pregnancy exhaustion through her day.
We’re never far from a kill or indeed a killer one liner, though the funniest scene is when she is facing down Len (Gemma Whelan), a superfit woman who thinks Ruth is a chugger (a “charity mugger”, one of those people who grab you in shop doorways and ask lots of questions that are impossible to answer yes or no to, in an effort to get you to sign up) and she’s about to be murdered for not setting up a monthly direct debit. “I told you I already give to loads of charities!” she says desperately as she stands in boxing gloves, gently punching Ruth on the nose, still unwilling to hurt a pregnant woman even though this one is standing in front of her wielding a large knife.
Ruth’s unborn baby is a hard voice to ignore: “Remember who’s the mastermind!” she reminds her mother, though she already understands modern culture: “He was a sop – a hipster sop” after one murder, followed by “…his name was Josh!”
As well as grief this is a film about fear. Ruth seems to be working class, she’s going to be a single mother and is really very vulnerable – and she’s terrified Social Services will come and take the baby off her and give her to a middle class couple. The midwife says (rather improbably it has to be said) “Nobody is going to take your baby from you if you make the right choices. You have to decide what’s right and what’s wrong” but the midwife is quite wet and the baby is hard as nails and bleakly philosophical: “a kind soul is as rare as a unicorn” she states from her warm and safe hiding place.
It’s not a true-to-life film by any means – Ruth seems to take no precautions against getting caught. And I know people increasingly mind their own business nowadays but the bodies really start to pile up. It is uneven in parts, and there are also times when the film goes in for the kill with rather, ahem, laboured themes when we’ve already worked things out for ourselves, but frankly during my own pregnancies I repeated myself a lot too.
Ruth is a sympathetic character as she is clearly ill, and scared. She is also, unfortunately for her victims, remarkably driven to commit her crimes. When I was at that stage in my pregnancies I was rolling around moaning and not because of that well known way to bring on labour, and I think it’s fair to say that at 8 months’ pregnant and fit to drop, the only way I could have killed anyone would have been by landing on them.
Alice Lowe wrote, directed and starred in this film while heavily pregnant, and apparently filmed the whole thing within a few weeks, which is really an astonishing achievement. To have managed to produce a funny, insightful and touching film in such a short timeframe is extraordinary and very welcome.