There is something undeniably idiosyncratic and charming about Alice Lowe’s Prevenge. For many, they’ll be sold on its villain, whose vocal inflections combine the coldness of the Red Queen and the carefree energy of children’s TV icon Peppa Pig. But, obviously, it isn’t just the film’s novel villainess (or villainesses, for some) that makes the overall viewing experience great. It’s visually rich, with an icy-black heart and reverence for genre, character, and audience.
Nine months after her boyfriend’s death in a suspicious rock climbing accident, a pregnant Ruth (Lowe) has a calling: not from God, but from her unborn baby. Ripe with anger for the death of her father, the fetus begins directing her otherwise passive mother to methodically kill each member of the rock climbing team who let her daddy die; otherwise, she will kill Ruth.
Prevenge is a tightly-weaved and minimalist approach to the slasher genre. Lowe impregnates the frame with a riotous spectacle of morbid humor that is a welcoming respite to contrived sequences of tension that (often) dwell on mindless violence, sedating the viewer in its gratuity. Ruth is both immediately relatable (for her obvious screw the world attitude), and is rife with interior pain shown through her external menace. It’s a lean script, and much of the film’s tension and violence is implied through discreet blocking and quick cutting. Fortunately, though, the film’s practical effects are one of its greatest assets, frequently highlighting absurdity and uncertainty to drive home punch lines.
Lowe’s background as a comedian is crucial to Prevenge’s success, and she cannibalizes every opportunity for the film to bask in indulgence and self-referential mockery. Each actor times their comedic punches with subtly, and Lowe shines in fight scenes where Ruth indulges her murderous child with bitter quips like “I am a working mother. It’s not easy meeting your kid’s demands these days.” While Prevenge’s subjectivity could be passable for some, including those who would see the film as a detriment to the mental state of pregnant mothers (like many who critiqued The Babadook for its representation of postpartum depression), Lowe manages to draw Ruth’s actions as so extreme that it’s difficult to read the film as oppressively nihilistic.
It is without doubt that trends drive the marketability of genres. And for some time now, slasher flicks gone relatively unproduced, with studios and filmmakers gliding on the backs of possessed dolls and art house human-interest stories. Prevenge will give horror fans a chance to return to the days of unstoppable, knife-wielding maniacs. But under Lowe’s command, she’s a person, and less of an enigmatic terror. This isn’t to say that Slashers 3.0 are now on the rise, but Prevenge is a witty inversion on a genre still constricted (in ways) by its forbearers.