meet the filmmaker who shot a horror film about an expectant mother on a killing spree, while pregnant
Alice Lowe’s 'Prevenge' is a black comedy that upends the clichés of motherhood, female characters, and women’s roles in the film industry.
Here is a cute story: Alice Lowe was six months pregnant when she was approached to make a film. Best known for Ben Wheatley's Sightseers, this would be Lowe's first as writer, director, and star, so she jumped at the chance. Even sweeter: at the end of filming, she was able to include her newborn daughter, Della, in a scene. But before we get all warm and fuzzy about this story, here is the less-than-cute part of it: the film that Lowe conjured up is in direct opposition to the soft, pastel ideas about pregnancy and womanhood that babywear brands might want you to imagine.
Instead, Prevenge is a horror story about a woman who believes her unborn child is steering her on a revenge killing spree. It is also the blackest of comedies, in which contemporary British archetypes get knocked off by a heavily pregnant and seriously enraged woman on a rampage. That Lowe was actually pregnant at the time of filming only adds to the weirdness.
But in the midst of the carnage, Lowe toys with the clichés of motherhood and creates dark humor from the messier side of pregnancy. And in making the film when she did, she raises questions about the challenges faced by women in the film industry. We sat down with Lowe to discuss crossing the line, female characters, and women in film.
How did the film come about?
I'd made a film called Black Mountain Poets with director Jamie Adams and he called me up afterwards and asked me if I wanted to do another film. I was six months pregnant; I thought I should just take it. I pitched this idea of a pregnant woman who goes on a revenge spree, that would need to be done in the next two months. I would have killed two birds with one stone: had a baby, made a film.
Why did the idea come to you?
As an actress, it's quite scary having a baby. I had friends tell me not to let anyone know or I might not get any work again. That was terrifying. Not only am I having a baby, but I'm going to be out of work. I'm a freelancer so I only get government maternity allowance. I was having an existentialist crisis about my life. What I would do if I couldn't be in the film industry? Can mothers be directors? It's a big commitment of your life, the hours are anti-social. I thought that the most surprising pregnant character would be the opposite of what you are supposed to be, this fluffy [person] who thinks about linen and pastels and butterflies and what they're going to call the baby. My character is someone who is furious, resentful, obsessive about the past and death. That's the character: someone about to give birth but who is obsessed by death.
Were you wary of introducing the audience to an unsympathetic woman?
Pregnant women always get sympathy so the challenge was to take away that sympathy. The first killing is shocking. You're more used to the male character as aggressor and woman as victim. It's deliberately playing with these expectations. Also, this idea of women characters having to be likeable. I've had this a lot as an actress and a writer, this 'we're worried she's not likeable enough'. It's a question that doesn't get asked about men in the same way. I think, who cares! If you stick her on a screen, it doesn't matter if she's likeable or not. Why do people need to like her? You can still travel with her on a journey.
Why do we ask those questions of female characters?
Maybe it's something about roles as mothers. That you are seen as having a supportive, self-sacrificial status, there to support other people. There is an element of that in motherhood. But as women have children later or don't have children at all, or have their own jobs and have their own identities, it's becoming less and less about those personality traits automatically being attached to a mother. Male characters might have those traits we assume they wouldn't have. We often think as female characters as props around the male character, who are the action, going forward and doing whatever he wants.
Did you have any reservations about the crossing the line in terms of pregnancy?
I definitely wanted to cross the line. It had to be completely against this idea of a pregnant woman as completely sanctified, clean, precious, and sweet.
How did you work out the types of people that your character kills off in the film?
I wanted them to all be narcissists or selfish. That was really fun, carving out these archetypal sorts of people she thinks are pernicious in society, that she's bringing her baby into a world of awful people. But you've got to love to hate them or else there'd be no tension in killing them off. It would be just get rid of them. Do it quicker!
Prevenge is in cinemas February 10.
Text Colin Crummy