SXSW Film Review: Prevenge

Maternity can be murder

The line between comedy and drama, they always say, is a thin one. As Alice Lowe's murderous maternal massacre Prevenge shows, there's no line at all between dark horror and dark humor.

The British filmmaker and comedian's feature directorial debut (which opens in New York and L.A. this month before streaming through dedicated horror site Shudder) is a bloody-handed, one-woman show. As writer, director, and actor, she sends widowed mother-to-be Ruth on a supernatural-tinged path of vengeance.

"It's not easy meeting your kids' demands these days," Ruth says in a flat, stressed monotone. Especially when your unborn child (or so Ruth believes) is telling you to murder the people responsible for the death of your husband.

Lowe is probably best known to U.S. audiences as maniac-in-the-making Tina in Ben Wheatley's pitch-black romantic comedy Sightseers. Yet that was scarcely her first or last dalliance with the more unnerving end of horror/comedy (see her career-starting work on cult favorite Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, Lee Hardcastle's 2014 short "There's Something in the Attic," or her directorial debut, Fantastic Fest 2014 short selection "Solitudo"). Here, she takes the current British trend of post-The Office lo-fi, low-key comedy, observational character comedy, and injects it with an unflinching, grisly, surrealist aesthetic of gushing arteries and splattered brains.

Yet what distinguishes Prevenge from the pack is the unsettling tragedy of Ruth. She's either an unwilling agent of her unborn's malice, or flat-out insane with grief. As a multi-tooled storyteller, Lowe keeps those options open, while making Ruth both sympathetic and malevolent.

Lowe cringes from neither the horror nor the bleak humor (nor, as a mother-to-be herself while shooting, the occasional indignities and inconveniences of pregnancy). Nor does she make a conventional anti-misogyny satire. Instead, her target is selfishness, and those that lack compassion, regardless of gender. In her us-against-the-world relationship with her baby, in the isolation of her widowhood, in her obtuse dedication to revenge, in the burning dilemma of her questionable sanity, Lowe puts Ruth alongside both Isabelle Adjani in Possession and Michael Douglas in Falling Down.


Prevenge

Festival Favorites

Friday, March 17, 3pm, Alamo Lamar

Read our interview with Prevenge writer/director/star Alice Lowe, Vengeance Is Hers.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.

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