Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 01/21/17 11:52:10

"Get them long before they get you."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT MONSTER FEST 2016: Given its title, I wonder if the script for "Prevenge" at one point had a more explicitly sci-fi angle at one point, playing out as something much more in line with "The Terminator" rather than taking a darker route where, if its murderous mother-to-be earns the audience’s forgiveness, it’s a much more troublesome decision. I’d kind of like to see that movie sometime, but Alice Lowe seems ideally suited for this take, and she sure as heck makes it interesting.

More than most movies, even those films conceived as the filmmaker’s own star vehicle, Prevenge is made by and for Lowe, and specifically at that time of her life: After writing the script, she directed and acted in this film when she was about seven months pregnant. I’m not sure I can recall a movie so built around the lead actress’s pregnancy in quite the way this one is before - even Absentia, if I recall correctly, is more a case of writing it into the script after casting rather than being integral enough that it was more a necessity for the shoot than a challenge - and doing so is admirably ambitious; I’m not sure how many women would deliberately schedule the intense grind of making an independent film for their third trimester. As much as it likely, in some small way, freed Lowe up from having to think about the physical aspects of the performance as opposed to simply playing the Ruth’s personality, she’s a talented enough actress that this particular bit of authenticity likely wasn’t critical.

On the other hand, it does give her instant credibility with an audience often willing to simplify the idea of pregnancy when she goes to dark places. Ruth, see, hears her unborn child’s voice, and it often tells her to kill, because some person or other will eventually do her harm. It’s a brilliant twist on the usual plot of impending motherhood teaching a woman responsibility and self-sacrifice, as what Ruth is facing is not just the loss of independence and personal pleasure - for Ruth, impending motherhood is not just a fear of being unable to measure up to other people (or alternately repeating her own mother’s mistakes), but utter uncertainty that she’s doing the right thing at all. How can someone like her be a decent mother, even if her motives are good? Have all the changes to her body and the hormones affecting her mind made her someone else, who still has all the flaws she started with?

Ruth occasionally grapples with those questions directly - if she were completely ruled by impulse, she wouldn’t be terribly interesting - and those are some of Lowe’s most obviously great bits of performance, great moments of emotional release. She’s great the rest of the time, too, playing Ruth’s increasing alarm as being generally countered by her exhaustion and self-doubt. What’s most remarkable is that it’s not entirely a downer of a performance; Lowe presents Ruth as having a clear determination even if she doesn’t necessarily recognize it, a sense that she was fun and in love and may be more capable of pulling herself together than she thinks.

A big part of that is how Lowe gives herself some dryly sarcastic dialogue (and, sometimes most memorably, monologues and narration); she’s tuned into both the absurdity and the horror of her concept and sharpens these two knives on each other, never letting one overpower the other. She fills the movie with a good set of potential victims, clearly defined and given just enough eccentricity in their performance to make good temporary foils, but always used to good purpose. The story itself is deliberately fuzzy - Lowe doesn’t need the audience worrying about the mechanics or pondering the ambiguity - and that can sometimes make things drag a bit, but she can usually drag things back on course.

It’s a take on pregnancy that will likely make some uncomfortable - there is a sort of accepted narrative, and if Lowe goes that direction, she does so by trudging through the prickle-bushes near the clear path. In doing so, Lowe creates what is very much an individual story while still finding something broadly true.

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