#LFF 2016: Prevenge review

Alice Lowe's Prevenge is not just a very thoughtful movie, with the co-writer and star of Sightseers using a classic revenge-tragedy plot and psychological horror to portray a turbulent period in a woman's life: it's also rewardingly nihilistic. Covering depression, grief and pregnancy as body-horror, the end result is a palpably unusual mix of comedy, pathos and gruesome violence. Prevenge is more than a clever pun and an amusing 'pregnant serial killer' scenario - it's a genre vehicle about social taboos.

The film chiefly deals with the nightmare of depression during pregnancy and the idea all women inherently look forward to being a mum, have a natural maternal instinct and that procreating is great and not a form of enslavement. Even the film's nicer figures are portrayed as weak or super-annoying. "A kind soul is as rare as a unicorn," Ruth (Lowe) says. That's a very bleak worldview. In discussion with an overly cheerful nurse (Jo Hartley) trying to help Ruth see the bigger picture, she bluntly puts it: "Nature's a bit of a cunt." She also isn't keen on the materialistic demands of today's young. "Kids today are spoiled. It's like 'Mummy, I want a PlayStation. Mummy, I want you to kill that man.'"

Prevenge is of course funny - often very funny - but Lowe's directorial skills equally stand out. The visual imagination is strong. One image in particular, of a murder victim bleeding out on a frosted glass table, shot from a low angle looking up, her face crunched against the surface, blood smearing everywhere, is worthy of Dario Argento in his pomp. The film, too, uses lots of soft-focus blurring (both foreground and background) as well as close-ups of Ruth (her eyes sing of sorrow). The overall mood is an impressionistic nightmare. From this, the viewer must question how much is actually happening in the story and how much of it is gore-filled daydreams of a soon-to-be-mum struggling to let go of the past when the future is growing in her belly.

Neither is Lowe afraid of serving up blood and guts. Throats are slashed, bellies sliced open. Prevenge is very much a horror movie and not a flick utilising genre tropes for arthouse purposes. It might have premiered Venice, but it'll be embraced by horror hounds and those who love their comedy to be on the dark side. Elsewhere, Lowe cleverly deploys elliptical editing, archive footage of banshee-like figures from 1934's Crime Without Passion, dreamlike montage sequences and, most insidious of all, extreme close-ups of tarantulas.

The BFI London Film Festival takes place from 5-16 October. Book your tickets at bfi.org.uk/lff.

Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn


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