SXSW: Prevenge: Revenge Served with a Dark Wit

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Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit sxsw.com and follow SXSW on Twitter at @sxsw.

Most of the time when you say “pregnancy” and “horror” in the same sentence, you’re usually talking about something either pre-pregnancy or post-pregnancy. We’ve had plenty of films featuring demonic children or satanic conception, placing the impetus of the fear squarely on the idea of having a kid. There aren’t many films in recent memory that delve headfirst into the pregnancy itself. Enter Alice Lowe’s Prevenge, which takes the intrinsic fears of motherhood with a gestational viewpoint delivering something that is gory, troubling, and that special kind of funny that leaves you judging yourself as you laugh.

…gory, troubling, and that special kind of funny that leaves you judging yourself as you laugh.

When we meet Ruth, it is with the same rose colored glasses that we so often view pregnant women through. She walks in, reserved and sheepish, lugging around a belly that is beginning to dwarf the rest of her figure. In our view, she is delicate and deserves to be treated with the most delicate of gloves. The Ruth that we first meet appears to be a fragile single mother and in our own estimation must be at least somewhat helpless. Turns out, Ruth can take care of herself just fine.

Prevenge_2Prevenge marks the directorial debut of Alice Lowe, who seems determined to cement her multi-hyphenate status having previously dipped her toe in with 2012’s Sightseers. This time around she’s rocking all three hats, writing, directing, and starring, and she does so with aplomb. Lowe’s script is complex, nuanced, biting, and darkly funny. While her main character is shown to be driven by the voice of her unborn daughter, we never feel that Ruth is actually crazy…a bit stressed, but not full on crazy. In fact, until I wrote that sentence I didn’t fully appreciate just how nuts I should have seen Ruth. Above all else, that’s a testament to Lowe’s performance.

Her Ruth is damaged and starts the film a bit apprehensive. But as the film progresses, she gains steam and becomes bolder in her actions. Her own apprehension appears to come from an unsure place, as if she is not completely convinced that the grisly murder of all of these people is the “right” thing to do. Yet as more blood is spilled, she feels vindicated in her own actions, at times becoming nearly cavalier in her methods. The more confident Ruth becomes, the less nervous we are coaxed to feel. What was a straightforward thriller becomes a character study, inspiring comparisons to De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.

Echoing the strength of her performance is the whip-smart screenplay. The writing is authentic even when it is ridiculous, but what really shines through is Lowe’s dark sense of humor. She derives laughter from the bleakest situations with an ease that is impressive and charming. The surprising spots of laughter disarm the audience and further ingratiates us to Ruth. It is in fact the writing that elevates Prevenge past the more standard revenge thriller fare and establishes it as something wholly unique, a pitch black comedic thriller that isn’t afraid of making things bleed.

The writing is authentic even when it is ridiculous, but what really shines through is Lowe’s dark sense of humor.

Despite the strength of Lowe’s performance and writing, there are moments when the seams begin to show. Not all of the kills or side stories build and add anything to the story. Each death is positioned as a place of learning or growth for Ruth, however at times they read as repetitive, robbing the scenes of their own implied strength. Likewise, some of the scenes are nearly amateurish in their staging, small contained vignettes that often lack any kind of shared visual vocabulary. It illustrates the depth of Lowe’s understanding of her lead character, yet also the distance she seems to have from the supporting players.

There are many moments in Prevenge that play out just as you would expect. Those duller beats are inevitably what holds the film back from being something truly special. When writer-director-star Alice Lowe ignores the conventions of her chosen genre, that’s when it begins to set itself apart. For Prevenge isn’t some grindhouse woman-on-the-verge thriller or even a standard revenge tale, it’s more meditative and cutting than all of that. As Lowe throws the expected to the wayside and makes the deeply personal film that is in her to make, she shows the promise of a disturbed, funny, and contemplative filmmaker. Prevenge is very much a freshman outing, but it shows the possibility for Lowe to be an interesting and expressive voice with the ability to bend genres to her will.

7.4 GOOD

Prevenge is very much a freshman outing, but it shows the possibility for Lowe to be an interesting and expressive voice with the ability to bend genres to her will.

  • 7.4
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About Author

Derek was the only engineer at Northeastern University taking a class on German film and turning a sociology research paper into an examination of Scorsese’s work. Now in Austin, TX, he blatantly abuses his Netflix account on the reg, although his List mocks him as it proudly sits healthily above 200. He continues to fight the stigma that being good at math means you are not any no good at writing. I good write, very much.