If you’ve ever carried a baby within your body for any amount of time, there’s a lot to like about writer/director/star Alice Lowe’s new horror-comedy Prevenge, a fun British romp about a pregnant lady (Lowe) who engages in fetus-directed murder. Namely, you’re really there for the theme of not being in control of your own body anymore. And what pregnant lady hasn’t wanted to really lay out a man who wasn’t so keen on treating her body like the vessel that it is? But much like pregnancy itself, the movie’s got a lot of groans, mood swings, and you don’t really know why things are happening. For watchers who haven’t ever been pregnant, well, I don’t know how the movie is going to read for you, but I can take a….stab.
Ruth is a single soon-to-be mom who is on a killing spree. Commanded by the voice of her widdle unborn baby and an ultimate burn book cataloging her murders, she sets off on a bloody rampage interspersed with flashbacks of a climbing accident and the regular visits with her doctor that timestamp any normal pregnancy. On her murder tour, Ruth slits the throat of a slimy pet store owner who assures her that his big snake is very smooth. She goes BALLS OUT (literally) with Dan, a fun-loving, mother degrading, fat-byrd-craving, 70’s music-shilling, no-qualms-with-kissing-a-woman-after-he-vomits dirt-bag. And just when you’re like, “Oh, this is a movie about the sisterhood,” Lowe pulls some lady victims into the mix with TWO familiar female Game of Thrones stars—Kate Dickie and Gemma Whelan—who both greet death at the hands of Ruth and her gestating grim reaper.
There are other murders, of course, but I’m going to stop before I get too far into spoilers and instead pause to ruminate on the problems with Prevenge. Over the course of the movie, you come to understand that Ruth is ostensibly putting her victims down for dirtnaps as revenge for the death of her unborn child’s father. Naturally, you wouldn’t be crazy to have assumed from the title, as I had, that Prevenge was more along the lines of Minority Report except that the pre-cogs are still floating in amniotic fluid rather than that milky substance. Instead, you get some kind of reverse Kill Bill, but lacking that satisfying kind of self-awareness and harboring a pretty fucked view of women.
The movie looks good—crisp and clean, with the dry British comedic sensibilities that we’ve come to expect from a British horror comedy in the post-Shaun of the Dead-era. Its problems, however, began for me as soon as the fetus started in it’s affected baby-voice talking in Ruth’s head. “People think babies are sweet, but I’m bitter,” the baby mewls over a scene of Ruth mind as she navigates the world while holding the enormous responsibility of sharing her body with someone else, but it’s rather goofy.
And maybe this is as good a time as any to discuss the origin of the word “hysterical.” Ruth’s actions are, as we would commonly describe it, “hysterical”—she’s feeling an incredible array of emotions that aren’t totally logical and which cause her to act in an erratic way. This word is rooted in Greek—hystera means “uterus.” So, in its essence, “hysterical” is a catch-all for when women have feelings that can’t be read as “normal” by the opposite gender.
Ruth is acting hysterical. She’s got a baby all up in that uterus and she’s acting crazy. But, frankly, the pregnancy is just a red herring for why she’s acting that bizarre and murderous. She’s pregnant and she’s lost her partner—the father of the baby. During the course of the film, you also discover an aspect of that relationship that’s traumatizing. All of this adds up to reasons why any human might be pushed over the edge. But the movie leads with the pregnancy and places all of that insane murderous behavior onto her hysteria. The fetus—though maybe it’s just Ruth, we’ll never, ever know except in our heart of hearts, which is a place we rarely discuss—even refers to the childless, high-powered business woman that Ruth murders as a “frigid bitch,” amplifying in some ways the worst of female-bred competition. This makes it almost impossible to empathize with Ruth, who then is not just murderous, she’s also siding with an oppressive culture that demands women have children over careers. Though, of course, there’s no winning here because the business woman herself is performing a view of the world in which a woman with children can’t be successful anyway. (JFC, it’s hard out there!)
There’s a reality in which I’m being really hard on this movie, after all, it’s just a goofy comedy-horror, right? But there’s also a reality in which a woman on the edge of motherhood, grief, and sanity is something to be feared and derided. Frankly, that reality is much, much scarier.
Courtney Algeo is a human person living in Minneapolis, MN with her husband and son. Every now and then she dusts off her @icecrmsocialite Twitter account, mostly to talk to Shonda Rhimes because, damn, there’s just something about Grey’s Anatomy.