Over the past 15 years, English performer Alice Lowe has carved out an impressive acting and writing career that’s landed her in an array of films like Edgar Wright‘s comedy The World’s End, the quirky kids movie Paddington, and Ben Wheatley‘s jovial slasher Sightseers, which she co-wrote with Steve Oram. But this week sees the theatrical release of her directorial debut feature, Prevenge, a deliciously dark horror comedy about a pregnant woman driven to kill by the high-pitched and incessant demands of her unborn baby.
Lowe not only wrote and directed this freaky film, but also starred as its mesmerizing anti-heroine, whose bulbous belly cuts a distinctive figure as she slashes through the throats of Cardiff’s confounded citizenry… all the Lowe was actually pregnant! After the film wowed us at SXSW, Nerdist joined Lowe for a dinner in New York City to discuss pregnancy taboos, the unique bend she’s brought to horror, and how she plans to introduce Prevenge to her daughter… someday.
“If you’re lucky you might get some crying baby in the background,” Lowe chuckles, looking upon my recorder. Her eyes drift to the corner of the room, where her toddler daughter Della is happily kicking her feet, playing with a dinner guest. As the meal commenced, the grinning girl sat on her mother’s lap, nearly as close as she was for the film’s shooting. It’s incredible that Lowe managed to make a movie while she was in her third trimester. It’s astonishing it was all shot in just 11 days. “It was meant to be eight days,” she confessed, “but it ended up being 11, with pick-ups and stuff.” With a smile, she said, “I was six months along when I came up with the idea. A month and a half later we were filming. Two months and a bit later, we had finished!”
Her work as a screenwriter had Lowe looking for opportunities to direct. But once she got pregnant, she feared that ambition would have to be shelved. “I did want to direct,” she shared. “But how many women with young babies do I know that are directing? I don’t know any. I know plenty of men with young babies that are directing, but I don’t know any women. So I might as well just say goodbye to that. It might happen in 10 years time. But forget it. You can’t think about it now. So I sort of said goodbye to the idea of directing. And then suddenly this opportunity–all in a really peculiar way I have to say–comes up.”
She was approached by a director (whose name she demurred from giving) who had a production package that included financing ready to go. He just needed a story and script, so he turned to Lowe. Initially, she thought of turning the project down, “I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t do it. I’m pregnant. I’m too tired and whatever.'” But the opportunity was too alluring to pass up. So, she pitched the concept that had been brewing as her baby bump grew. “They basically said it could be anything,” Lowe recalled. “So actually, I could put myself in it. And I could be a pregnant character, and I could do whatever I wanted with that pregnant character, and tell a narrative that’s about the sorts of parts that we don’t usually see, hear about, or read, or get offered.”
She continued, “So I pitched a pregnancy-revenge script, and they absolutely loved it. And actually, the director who’d come to me with this package, he said to me, ‘I love the idea. But it’s not my thing. I do rom-coms. So I think you should direct this. It’s your baby.'” She confessed she was initially terrified. “But at the same time,” she said, “I was like, ‘Yes. This is probably right. If I pull this off, I might actually get to have my cake and eat it.'” Pregnancy need not be an obstacle to her career, it could be a collaborator!
Lowe chuckled recalling how friends in the industry had warned her to tell no one she was pregnant because it could keep her from scoring freelance work. She said, “My friends were seeing me and being like, ‘So, what are you going to do now? Are you putting your feet up?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m making a feature film!'”
The idea for Prevenge grew from Lowe’s own fears about how pregnancy would impact her identity. In the film, her character Ruth is repeatedly lectured on how baby is in charge now, how all mothers must be sacrificed to baby. For Lowe, this meant being grouped into a pregnancy culture she felt uncomfortable with. “When you’re a freelancer and you’re a writer, you kind of step out of society a bit,” she said. “You don’t have a box. You’re doing your own thing. And then suddenly when you’re having a baby, you’ve got to be a part of this club, with other women who are also in the same stage of pregnancy as you. It doesn’t matter if you have anything in common with them. It’s like, ‘You’re going to forget your previous identity. You’re all going to become Stepford Wives. You’re only going to hang out with each other.”
She continued, “There was a lot of stuff like that that was alarming me. I was like, ‘I don’t want to leave my previous identity. I like my previous identity.’ Do I have to sacrifice that? The idea of having a baby seems like it ought to be nice, but there’s stuff that was terrifying me about it. So I was in the middle of that, and having a bit of a crisis as a freelancer. How am I going to earn money? Will I ever work again?” From there, Lowe decided to use Prevenge to explore narratives often denied women on film. She gave her heroine a bloody tale of vengeance, and she refused to make Ruth “likable.”
This is a common theme when discussing popular cinema’s representation of women.
“We’re used to seeing women who are completely tied to society, and they are actually keeping it together,” Lowe said. “They’re a wife or a daughter or a mother or a nurse–they’re society’s glue. And I was like, why can’t we see a female character who’s just untethered? And it’s powerful. She’s like a weapon who’s coming for you!” This daring director reveled in challenging her audience, purposefully withholding Ruth and her baby’s motive for murder through the film’s first act. “I wanted [the audience] to go, ‘I don’t know that I agree with her. I might hate her’ for longer. Because if you can go with her on that journey, that proves to me and to the audience and to studios or whatever, it doesn’t matter whether female characters are likable or not.”
She compared Ruth to Travis Bickell of Taxi Driver, saying, “I have this theory that you get in the back of his cab and you go with him. You’re his passenger. And you don’t go, ‘Do I like him or not? Is this a terrible representation of men? Is this a terrible representation of taxi drivers? So prejudiced!’ You go with him, and you recognize that this is an individual, and we’re on an individual’s journey. And I don’t agree with what he’s doing, but I know why he’s done it. And I wanted to do a female character that is that basically, and to take you into her world and her experience.”
She added, “I wanted to immerse you in the character. It’s like a sensory experience between the music, the color, and the sound. That was a hugely important part for me. It has to be a sensory experience. You have to feel like you’re her. Like you’re inside her. You’re traveling around with her in this vehicle. To me, I don’t care about whether you agree with her or you like her. You’re with her. That’s the point. I didn’t want to give people the chance to separate themselves, and go, ‘Well, she’s not me because I’m not that gender, I’m not that age, I’m not pregnant. So I can’t identify with it.’ It’s like, you’re coming with me whether you like it or not!” She concluded, “I think cinema is a tool for extending empathy. It’s like taking the character you didn’t think you’d identify with, and broadening it.”
Still, early cuts spooked execs who wondered if reshoots could be done to wedge in some more jokes. “I thought about it for a while, and thought, ‘No. You can’t put more jokes in that you haven’t filmed from the start.’ And I really believe that. You’ve got to make the film that you shot. You just have to make the best version of what you shot. And that was my epiphany: I’ve got to stand by this. I stand by the seriousness of it. I stand by the serious scenes. I believe in it. And actually I think that’s one of the things that got it into Venice, which is a very serious film festival, and has given people stuff to talk about when they watch the film.”
As heralded horror films like The Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, XX and Prevenge earn attention for the female filmmakers excelling in the genre, I asked Lowe what she thinks draws women to horror. “I know for myself I’ve always loved horror,” she said. “I do think it’s very good way to break into directing. Because it’s a very visual medium, a very commercial medium. It can be emotional. It can be psychological. Horror is just a visual metaphor for human drama, that’s how I see it.”
As the night wound down, Lowe wondered aloud if she should put Della to bed. Looking across the room at the wee one’s wiggling toes, I asked how old she would need to be before her filmmaker mother would show her Prevenge. “I don’t know,” Lowe said. “I think you’re going to have that debate when you’re an actor anyway. When do we tell the baby that mummy’s an actress? And there’s going to be material that they can’t watch. Obviously, she’s in the film. I don’t know. I think it will be a cool thing for her to be like, ‘I was in Mummy’s tummy.’ I think I’ll have to explain to her, ‘Okay, it might seem like I didn’t like you.’ But, you’re lovely. So don’t worry about that. It was a role that we were both playing.'”
Prevenge is now open in select cities and available to watch on Shudder. Let us know what you think!