So often, women get told that having a child growing inside their bodies is a sacred duty that will turn them into glowing demi-goddesses. That might be the case for some lucky people, but even if it is, becoming a mother changes everything about your life. Prevenge cuts right into the belly of those preconceptions to show how that change can be absolutely terrifying in a world where women have to struggle to be recognised as equal.
Prevenge comes from the mind of writer/director Alice Lowe, who shot the film in 11 days while she herself was pregnant. Lowe also plays central character Ruth, a single mother-to-be who’s out of work and staring down some glum prospects in her under-realised life. Then, the baby in her uterus starts talking to her. And telling her to kill people.
Swayed by a seeming mix of pre-maternal guilt and the misanthropic logic of an unborn daughter already full of venom for the world, Ruth starts doing exactly that. At first, it seems like her victims will just be the men who accompanied the child’s father on the rock climbing trip where he died. One of them comes onto Ruth in extremely slimy fashion, acting like he’s doing her a favour by groping and negging her into drunken sex. Baby keeps whispering about how disgusting he is and, realising that the yet-to-arrive kid is right, Ruth slices his penis off in a scene that’s both funny and shocking. When the man bleeds to death, Ruth doesn’t show anything by way of remorse, in large part because baby won’t let her.
During a prenatal check-up, Ruth says, “I don’t want to know what’s in there. I’m scared of her.” It’s a beat that rings true, channeling the desperation and panic of impending motherhood. Prevenge brews an angry molotov cocktail out of the do-anything-for-your-child logic of fear-mongering parent guilt, and the matter-of-course sexism that women have to deal with every day, and lobs it at broadly drawn targets. When Ruth sits down for a job interview, the sneering woman on the other side of the table treats her pregnancy like a liability. “Sort it out, the whole motherhood thing,” the interviewer says. “Get it out of your system.” You can probably guess what happens next.
Like Get Out, there’s a lot about Prevenge that feels cathartic, because like Jordan Peele’s hit movie, this film pulls from the microaggressions and institutional inequity that women have to deal with. It’s a revenge flick with an unborn baby at its core, using that conceit to highlight how screwed up the world still can be for 50 per cent of its population. Lowe infuses the deaths in her movie with an equal mix of despair and humour but Prevenge is a sharp accomplishment that dares you to laugh at the truths underneath its horror.