Interview | Alice Lowe, ‘Prevenge’ and the Horrors of Pregnancy
There have been horror movies made about just about every aspect of the human experiences, but not as many horror movies about pregnancy as you might think, and even fewer (if any) made by and starring a pregnant woman.
Alice Lowe brings a unique perspective to her new horror comedy Prevenge, which she wrote and directed, and in which she plays a woman whose unborn child is urging her to kill. It’s a film that has played at numerous film festivals and recently, finally debuted in the United States last weekend.
I witnessed Prevenge at SXSW 2017 and I was taken aback by Alice Lowe’s remarkable performance and humorous insights, so I was thrilled to finally get her on the phone to talk about the creative decisions that went into her movie… even though I sometimes had to compete for her attentions with her new child (and Prevenge co-star). We spoke of the anxieties about pregnancy that she infused into her screenplay, the way pregnancy can also be a superpower, and the origin of the costume she wears in Prevenge, which seems destined to turn up as cosplay at horror conventions.
Crave: Prevenge is a horror comedy about a women who is pregnant, she’s hearing voices from inside her womb, and you made this movie while you were pregnant. That is such a coincidence!
Alice Lowe: [Laughs.] Yeah! Yeah, it was a big coincidence. You know I barely noticed that I was actually pregnant. It was a big surprise to me when the baby came out at the end of nine months. It nearly interrupted the film’s schedule but we managed to work around it.
Yeah, I mean obviously, I don’t know how much you know about the story behind the inception of the film, but I was pregnant before I came up with the idea. So it was something that I kind of pitched to Independent Film Company because they’d asked, “Have you got anything?” I was like, “I’m pregnant. I can’t work. Sorry. Goodbye!” [Laughs.] I actually turned it down. Then I went away and went, what if I did something about a pregnant character? It would be a really good way of making sure I’m still employed even though I’m having a baby.
So I came up with the idea and I took it to them and they loved it, and I was like, “Can we film it in the new two months?” and they were like, “Yeah.”That was how the film came about, basically.
I’ve seen other horror movies deal with the topic of pregnancy, but this one strikes me as particularly intimate. I feel like Revenge is a very interesting look at the way people respond to pregnant women.
Can you tell me about that?
Yeah, I mean I felt like… I was really surprised that there hasn’t been a film just made about pregnancy from the female perspective. There are a few horror films about pregnancy but I always felt like they came from the exterior of that character. Even Rosemary’s Baby, she doesn’t know that she’s got the devil inside her. She’s the last person to be in on the joke. She doesn’t what’s going on.
I was just like, I really want to make a pregnant character who is experiencing this crisis fully, this existential crisis, and we as the audience stay submerged in her experience. And yeah, kind of going through these emotional highs and lows. I just was surprised that that hasn’t… I didn’t feel like I’ve seen that, and I felt like it was a kind of a gap there, for someone to do that.
At the same time I had also been thinking about, why isn’t there a female Taxi Driver? Why isn’t there a female Travis Bickle? The two things kind of collided together in my mind. I was like, what about a mother character who is outside society? She’s an anomaly in itself.
Mothers, that’s the fabric of society, what keeps one generation going into the other, people who have babies. But what about someone who’s cut free from all of those… [Alice Lowe’s baby cries.] Oh dear, sorry, the baby’s having a fit! He’s very hot. But basically yeah, I just felt like it’s maybe not a new story but a new perspective, and it was basically one I felt was fresh and yeah, a new angle really.
When of the things that struck me was that when Ruth is describing her pregnancy to other people, particularly the… nurse, I guess?
Yeah, midwife. Yeah.
She says things that we know have dark undertones but could potentially be describing pregnancy. Just for example, the idea that your body is being hijacked. When you’re making a film about the experience of pregnancy while you’re pregnant, is it easier to explore these negative emotions or is it a mixed experience?
By the time I was filming I kind of felt like I was really enjoying the pregnancy, and I was having a great time. I was making a film. I was like, wow, this is great! I get to have my cake and eat it. But I think before I made the film, before I knew I was going to make the film, I was feeling really nervous about loss of identity and losing work and losing my freedom, and all of these things.
It was quite nerve-wracking, the idea of having to sort of join this club of mothers, who I felt I had nothing in common with other than having a baby. So it was more like I put all my fears before I made the film, into the film, and then I didn’t have those fears anymore because I exorcised the fears.
The film is interestingly structured. It’s rather episodic, with Ruth encountering different people, having different sorts of interactions that one might have with a pregnant woman or as a single woman or as a working woman. Can you tell me about the decision your decision to tell the story that way, and why you felt each vignette was important for the film?
Yeah, I mean some of the restrictions of the episodic nature was to do with the budgetary restrictions we had, because we wanted to film over a really short time, because I didn’t know how much energy I would have. I didn’t know how much the bump would change in terms of continuity. So I knew I had to film in a way of having long scenes in a few locations. That was the only way it could be achieved was by doing this episodic two-hander playlets.
But then it was the challenge of working out all of these different trials she was going through, what they represent, in a way, and what different challenges each of these people represent. You know, in my mind it was like a journey through Hell or something. It’s like the different murders are different tonally because they represent a different facet of what challenges she thinks she’s meeting, in terms of society. She’s got this misanthropic baby inside her who hates society and so it was about representing this different kind of sinners, in a way. There isn’t really much religious overtones in the film but it’s kind of like my version, or the baby’s version of sinners: people who are selfish in their own way. Then just really enjoying surprising the audience in terms of, like, wow… this is going to be unexpected now. […]
Yeah, there was a sense of, a pregnant woman is used to being quite weak. But I kind of had this idea of like, well, one of the things about being female is that you can transform the way that you are. I kind of saw this character as an anti-superheroine, for whom pregnancy is her special power. It sort of endows her. People assume she has a vulnerability or a weakness, and it means they let her into their world, and who else would you let into your house other than maybe a pregnant woman or a child?
So it was the idea of someone using all of those things as their powers, and using the fact that we judge women by their physical appearance to fool people into thinking she’s a particular type of woman. I think a lot of that came about because I’m an actress, and those kind of are some of the issues I was dealing with in terms of representations of women on screen, the expectations we have, the limitations placed on characters or performers because of some of lazy clichés of writing, sometimes.
So I was trying to contradict a lot of those. I was trying to say, okay, here’s this woman. Now forget everything you might have assumed about her because I’m literally burning the costume within about fifteen minutes. [Laughs.] Because this person is going to be nothing that you expect. Yeah, it was deliberately provoking challenges to the audience’s expectations.
You mention burning your costume. Your Halloween costume at the end of the film struck me as really relevant to a couple things you just said… the part about you being a supervillain, but also the idea that this is Ruth’s descent into Hell because you’re wearing a death mask.
Can you tell me about the origin of that costume, and why you chose that particular look?
I guess what I wanted was the irony of taking a pregnant woman and dressing her up as Death. [Laughs.] I suppose I could have gone whole hog and given her a scythe and a black hood and stuff, but I wanted there to be something striking and iconic about this vision of her. I built her kill list, [the] “Baby’s First Steps” sort of book that she has. That was kind of informing who she is and what things she thinks about in the drawings that she does, and I started looking at voodoo and ideas of witchcraft and all of these ideas that she’s interested in, coming through in building the identity of this death character.
I mean there’s a line in the film where she says, “This is what I really look like.” There’s also a scene where the baby is walking through all these people in Halloween costumes and the baby says, “They’re monsters, all of them.” I had this idea that Halloween is just this inversion, that people are so awful that actually, at Halloween, people dress up as what their souls are actually like. Because people are what they are, they are monsters.
So I had this idea that this is Ruth with the skin peeled off her. This is who she really is within, and she’s a frightening figure. There’s lots of influences. Also Amanda Palmer did a thing where she would dress in full body paint while she was pregnant to raise awareness for a particular charity, and I remember seeing that image and it was really powerful. They had drawn her baby within her tummy and I had this interest of seeing the visceral, underneath the skin, of this person.
Are you prepared to see the perhaps inevitable cosplay of Ruth at horror conventions?
[Laughs.] I would love to see that! That would be brilliant.
SXSW 2017 Film Festival Retrospective:
Top Photo: Maarten de Boer / Contributor / Getty Images
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.