A lot of pregnant women would rather spend the final months of their pregnancy trying to relax at home and prepare for the baby’s arrival. Others spend those days writing, directing and starring in a film about a woman driven to murderous revenge by the demands of her unborn infant. Or maybe Alice Lowe is entirely unique in that respect.
Her film, Prevenge, is a blood-soaked, darkly hilarious thriller that showcases the very best of low-budget British filmmaking. It’s a lean, mean movie with a wicked sense of humour and Lowe’s central performance is the perfect balance of funny and unhinged.
The film hits UK cinemas next week over the Valentine’s Day weekend and, ahead of the release, I got chance to chat with Alice about making Prevenge, working with Ben Wheatley and whether she will get back behind the camera in the future.
Prevenge is out in cinemas at the same time as the new Fifty Shades film. Which do you think is a better date movie for Valentine’s Day?
If you want to make a baby, go see Fifty Shades. If you want to avoid making one, see Prevenge. I think it could be effective contraception. It should maybe be available in Boots?
When did you first decide to make Prevenge? Were you always going to both direct and star?
It took quite a lot of persuading for me to even think of writing it, let alone acting in it and directing it. I was approached with a tentative offer to be involved in a feature, but I thought I couldn’t do it because I was already about six months pregnant. Then the more I thought about it, the more I thought I was looking a gift horse in the mouth by turning it down. I was already worried about unemployment. I thought ‘what if I wrote myself a pregnant character to play?’, so I came up with the idea of Prevenge and the producers loved it.
Originally I thought I might be up for writing the script. Which seems a pretty reasonable and sedentary pastime whilst pregnant. But the more I told the producers about the idea, the more it became evident that I was the only person who could direct it because it’s such a weird little tale. It’s tonally very peculiar and a real little monster of a film, mixing horror, comedy and drama. So really only its mother was going to understand how to care for it – like a real baby. Once I’d agreed to write and direct and star, I wrote the script in about a week, and a month and a half later we were filming.
You shot Prevenge over a very short period of time. How did that affect the film and the story?
I wrote the script so that it could be shot over eight days. This was because I’d done a five day feature before as an actor, but I figured we’d need three more days for the special effects. In the end we had to do a few days of pick up, so it was 11 days overall. I used all my experience of co-producing and writing short films, which Jacqueline Wright would then direct. We always shot in one day. I figured, if you can get ten minutes in the can every day, by day eight you’ve got a feature.
I wrote long scenes that played out as two-handers in a single location. One actor would come in every day – we’d kill them in the morning, do the dialogue in the afternoon and then play around a bit at the end of the day. All of the hotel room sandwiching scenes were shot back to back. Then I wrote some scenes that were ‘scheduled chaos’ with me and a micro crew wandering around Cardiff getting some stuff guerrilla-style. The short shoot meant that the story was extremely streamlined And helped me focus on a single main protagonist’s journey.
I am always intrigued by films that balance comedy and violence. How did you go about getting that right with Prevenge, both in terms of the script and in the finished film?
The tone was very clear in my head, as were the scenes, so writing it came thick and fast. But in terms of making it work, I knew it would be a labour of love in the edit. There’s a lot of pulling the rug from under the audience’s feet as to what kind of film you’re watching. We had to be slick about it, so that it looked intentional and not like a dog’s dinner. I was lucky in that I had an incredible editor who was utterly unfazed by the ambition of the tonal shifts.
Music and sound was very key to manipulating the audience as well and making transitions feel intentional so that they sweep you along into an entirely unexpected new direction. In terms of selling comedy/horror performance, you just have to be as sincere and truthful as possible. I don’t go for ‘comedy turns’. Everyone comes in and sells the characters as absolutely real and serious, which makes it much funnier in my book and much more affecting.
Prevenge seems quite similar in tone to Sightseers. How would you compare your own style with that of Ben Wheatley? Would you like to work with Ben again in future?
I’d always love to work with Ben; he’s the best and you have the best time. I would be a fool to compare my work to his as he has much more experience behind the camera, but I think we probably have a similar sense of humour. He likes surreal stuff, and so do I.
People are quite often surprised by that because my acting is quite naturalistic and I’ve always preferred naturalism performance-wise, but actually I don’t see a contradiction. I see normality as really bizarre and surrealism as quite normal. It’s all a flip side of the same coin.
I loved the scenes in which the baby spoke to Ruth. How did you go about finding the right voice to convey the idea of a murderous baby?
We had to experiment quite a lot. At first, I was doing it, but people got confused and thought it was Ruth’s internal monologue. So then we toyed with getting a child actor in, or even an elderly actress. But there’s a nice circularity about it being Ruth’s voice, so I asked the sound designer, who is a genius, if he could treat the sound of my voice instead.
We talked about purely narrating characters like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Frank in Donnie Darko, Hera in Jason and the Argonauts and the spirit in Kurosawa’s Throne Of Blood. I had this idea that the baby is very very ancient and wise and a bit of a misanthropic snob, who knows everything – a goddess of rage and fury but a bit petty. The sound designer did an amazing job. He managed to make the voice childlike but also with an edge of the supernatural. In the end it was just easy me doing it because we were chopping and changing the lines all the time, and I was just there.
Many of Ruth’s victims in Prevenge are the sort of people that many people may have come across in real life. How did you choose who the victims would be?
I think I tried to get a nice even spread of common-or-garden narcissism. Whether it’s hedonism, or self-preservation, or laziness, or coldness, or callousness. It’s kind of like the baby’s own version of Se7en. But I think the characters are all very peculiarly British. Script always come from character for me, because of my background as an actor I suppose. I like the little nuances that betray how someone ticks – all of the things they don’t say, the stuff between the lines, the ironies, and how people will often say the exact opposite of what is true. I’m interested in psychology.
I guess I was thinking a lot about being a parent and how you know you care about the child, but how can you trust society to care about it? It makes you terrified and I think society is getting more selfish. And while there is a societal pressure to be kind to an expectant mother or a baby, this doesn’t extend to when that baby gets older. There’s a cut-off point and for some people there might be a cut-off point because of the baby’s skin colour or religion or nationality. It’s really weird. I tried to pick people who I thought have a sense of pretending to have social responsibility, but it’s just a mask, and really they don’t give a fuck.
Now that you’ve had your baby, how do you feel about Prevenge looking back on it? Is there anything you would change if you made it now?
No, I think I’ve come through having a baby remarkably without feeling like I’ve lost too much of my sanity. It’s funny, I was scared of parenthood, then the baby I’ve had is actually a very sunny-natured, smiley little girl. It makes me feel a bit guilty because I’ve made a film about how evil she is. But then, I put all of my fears into the film and exorcised them. It wouldn’t be truthful to the fears or to the experience to take them out. I think the film was altogether very cathartic to me and good therapy.
I was worried about losing my job and my identity by becoming a mum, but then I made a film about it and none of those things came true. So I’m just really quite smug now. I have had my cake and eaten it. I will probably get bitten in the arse when she’s a teenager though.
How have people reacted to Prevenge so far? Has there been any walkouts?
There haven’t been any walkouts, as far as I’m aware. A fundamentalist Christian website said it was an ‘abomination’, which we all thought was splendid. I think the reaction has so far been very positive, with people being surprisingly hungry for a violent pregnant woman on screen. It’s something different anyway. At the end of the day, if there were walkouts, I’d hope it meant I’d made something new and challenging. I’m not out to make the latest Pixar.
Do you prefer writing, acting or directing?
I see them all as part of the same thing. It’s like saying to someone in a band: ‘which do you prefer, singing, songwriting, or playing the guitar?’ They’re all cog parts in a big, old machine. I like them all. I guess there’s a certain power in being a director because you get to prove your ideas do actually work. But it can be a bit lonely sometimes. You have to be in control and switched on and thinking. It’s like being a parent or a teacher or something.
Being an actor is more like being a child. It’s unconscious and freeing and I love it. Writing is a means to an end really. I get really bored, but things don’t type themselves and mind reading has not been invented yet, so it’s the only way to get the ideas from my head into other people’s. Acting is probably my favourite. It’s just that people either don’t give me the parts I want, or they don’t write them. So I have to do it myself.
What’s next for you? Do you have anything in the pipeline?
I am developing another film with the same company and it’s even more bonkers than Prevenge!
Thank you, Alice Lowe! Prevenge is in UK cinemas from February 10. Click here for more information or to book tickets.