Alice Lowe in Prevenge (Shudder)

An unholy marriage of Rosemary’s Baby and Death Wish dropped into the bleakest of Mike Leigh’s urban landscapes, Prevenge is a deeply dark and fierce black comedy. It combines the dislocation that impending motherhood can bring, prepartum depression, and rampant sexism, all set to the tune of a slasher flick.

Ruth (writer/director Alice Lowe) is seven months pregnant, depressed and alone. She lives in a nondescript motel and seems to spend her time gazing at a photograph of a man we presume is long gone and chatting with her unborn baby, who, unfortunately for everyone involved, is goading Ruth to kill. At first, it seems like the victims are random, generally unpleasant, and, in the world of movies, deserving of some sort of comeuppance, but it becomes clear as we move along that there is a deeper pattern.

This is a brave film. Not just because it has a main character who is a pregnant psychotic killer, or that it takes on the fact that when we see a pregnant woman in society, we see the pregnancy before we see the woman, but because we hear the fetus’s side of the conversation. It is voiced by an adult woman taking on a child’s voice, a device which could fall flat faster than an ostrich jumping off a cliff, but like everything else here, it works beautifully.

What’s really impressive, though, is how the humor is buttressed by the horror—and vice versa. This is a deceptively structured piece. What Lowe is doing here is not easy. Every laugh and every scare is deliberately paced, and even when you’re unsure which direction the storyline will go, that is deliberate as well. This is all buttressed by a wonderful deadpan performance by Lowe, a very funny supporting cast, and an eerie synth score by Toydrum.

Underneath all the darkness lies the character study of a lonely woman dealing with grief and rage and anxiety. There is a beautiful moment, after a particularly gruesome kill, where Ruth puts her face and hands against the hotel wall so she can hear and feel the vibrations of the couple making love next door. It is heartbreaking. It almost makes you forget she slit a man’s throat. Not quite, but almost.

Prevenge is recommended for anyone who likes their comedy and their horror dark as night. They won’t be disappointed.

Written and Directed by Alice Lowe
Released by Shudder
UK. 88 min. Not rated
With Lowe, Jo Hartley, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, and Tom Davis