What is your usual impression of a pregnant woman on film? Glowing, happy; maybe dealing with a complicated paternity situation, a la Bridget Jones' Baby or Knocked Up? How about... murdering people? That's exactly what you'll get in Prevenge, a new British horror-comedy about a woman being induced to lure and kill unsuspecting victims by her unborn child. BUST spoke to Prevenge star, writer and director Alice Lowe about her new film, and the portrayal of pregnancy on film.
You wrote and directed and acted in this film while you were pregnant- so congratulations on the film and the baby! Can you tell our readers a little bit about Prevenge [pronounced PREH-VENGE; pregnancy combined with revenge]?
It's basically a woman who's pregnant who goes on a revenge spree. You find out during the course of the film why she's doing what she's doing, and what links all her victims together. It's a kind of dark comedy-horror, with bits of pathos and melancholy to it as well.
What was the inspiration behind the film?
So I was actually pregnant... someone came to me and said, "Would you like to make a film? It's like a no-strings-attached, low-budget package to make a film, any film you want." And I was like,''Oh my god that's an amazing opportunity, why is this happening to me now?' I actually turned it down and said, 'No, I'm pregnant, I can't really work on this thing right now.' Then I kind of went away and thought, 'Why aren't I taking this opportunity?' Because as a freelancer I was actually quite worried about maternity leave, you know, and not having any money and all of this sort of thing. So I thought, 'What if I told a story about a pregnant woman and what if I really went against the grain and told a story that I didn't feel had been on screen before, and would be an unexpected representation of pregnancy?' I really wanted to refute what people always say pregnancy is like or represent what pregnancy is like. I just felt like I had stuff to say about it, really.
So I pitched this idea of a revenge spree to the company and they said, "We love it." And I was like, 'Well, can we do it in the next 2 months?' and they were like, 'Yeah, we can make that happen!' And so within 2 months, we'd shot the whole thing — it was very quick. I wrote it in about a week, and we shot it over 11 days with some breaks in between. It was a very, very fast project, which I enjoyed; it was sort of the opposite of what filmmaking is usually like for a feature film, where its months or maybe even years of writing and planning and stuff. We just had to do it very fast.
So you've got a strong background in comedy and you've worked in a lot of wonderful TV shows and films [Alice has appeared in comedies such as Hot Fuzz, Black Books, and The IT Crowd] — is this your first journey into the horror genre?
I've started to become quite associated with horror now. I did a cult TV show about 10 years ago called Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, a kind of a spoof of horror writers but also of 80s television, and it's got quite a cult following in the UK, people watch it over and over again [laughs]. So that was kind of a horror thing. There's quite a strong link with comedy and horror in the UK, so I've been in a few other things, like Inside No. 9 and Sightseers, which I also co-wrote. I've always loved horror, I've always loved the surreal. A lot of my stuff is quite dark, and a lot of my humor is quite dark.
It feels like, with films like Get Out, horror-comedies that make dark social criticism are the in thing right now.
It seems like there's a bit of a vibe in the air. I think comedy-horror is quite an established idea, you know, mixing comedy and horror in film. But when I was making this film I also wanted to say something with it. I recognize that I'm taking a bit of a risk by doing that because I don't know who else is doing that actually at the moment. There are some scenes that are quite serious and there's some ideas in it that are quite serious. But I just thought, 'I've got something to say about this topic, it's not just a silly lighthearted comedy, there's some really heavy issues going on within it.'
What were some of those serious points you were trying to make?
The whole issue of a woman working while she's pregnant, or working in an industry like film. Women are very underrepresented as directors, and that's something that's interested me for a long time — it does seem like a lot of women drop out of the film industry when they have children, one of the factors being because the hours are so long. Then we get an underrepresentation of mothers. So the way that mothers are represented on screen, is that getting skewed because we don't have enough people who actually know what that's about? Or championing mothers having their stories told on screen? I think there's all sorts of ways that the stories that we get represented on screen are skewed because we don't have even representation of certain groups telling stories. And then that feeds into the pressures we are put under, having to be like the perfect women because the women we see represented on screen are perfect. Mothers are always self-sacrificial and kind and martyrish and they're always supporting someone else's narrative. You rarely see a story about the mother without her supporting someone else, you know?
All of this is stuff that I felt was happening to me at the time. I really thought you know, I'm having a baby now, I don't think that I'll be able to be a director now, even though I would like to, because I just don't know any directors that have babies that are women — I know plenty of men who have babies who are directors, but not many women. As an actress, I've seen more female directors coming through, I've worked with more female directors in the last 3 years than I have in my whole career. That has to be a really good sign that things are changing. But I also think, thinking purely commercially about it, there is an appetite for viewpoints that we haven't seen before on screen. There is an appetite for fresh stories and fresh perspectives.
Would you describe Prevenge as feminist, as well as comedy and horror and all the other genres it fits into?
Not particularly. I mean, I am a feminist, so there's going to be some stuff in there that's in its DNA that's about feminism. But I think as a filmmaker, you try to raise questions rather than give answers. If this was a feminist film and I only wanted feminists to see it, then I'm preaching to the converted, and I don't want to preach. Really if this film has any agenda, it would be to say, "You might think you can't identify with this person because they're a different age to you, or a different race, or a different gender, or a different situation because they're pregnant, but actually by the end of it, why can't you identify with this person?"
My theory is that if you show someone for an hour and a half, by the end of it you're going to feel like you see the world through their perspective. I think that cinema is a very important tool for empathy and making us understand other people better. I have an ambition to make films about human beings. I want people to be able to watch the film and go "I felt something when I watched this. I felt something for this character or I felt something during this film." And really you want someone to be able to watch it in 20 years time and it still works because it's about human beings and it still applies. I think really the way you do that is really write stories about humans and about people.
I was quite inspired by classical mythology, I was looking at plays like Medea and Antigone and Electra. Look at these ancient stories: revenge is a concept that is thousands of years old. I think that's amazing, because you go there's not that much difference between us as human beings now and human beings thousands of years ago. Revenge still existed as an idea. You try to write something that has a higher overview of what society is like or what people are like.
As we've mentioned, you were pregnant with a real baby while filming this movie [about an unborn baby compelling its mother to kill]; what are you planning on tell your new little baby about this when she grows up?
Maybe at some point, she'll kind of go, 'Oh it's quite cool, I was in a film before I was born...' Hopefully, she'll think that's cool. And I'll explain to her, 'It's not about you being an evil baby, it's fine. We know that you're not an evil baby, you and I.'
You can catch Prevenge on the horror movie streaming service Shudder or in selected cinemas from March 24.
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