From Kubrick to Kate Bush: Alice Lowe on her influences for killer mum horror Prevenge

Director Alice Lowe reveals what inspired her razor-sharp feature debut, which sees a pregnant woman coerced by her unborn child to undertake a murderous rampage.

Nikki Baughan
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Prevenge (2016)

Prevenge (2016)

You wrote and made Prevenge while pregnant yourself; did the idea stem from your determination to get away from cinema’s traditional ethereal view of pregnancy?

It was more born of frustration and bafflement, and feeling like an outsider to the shiny tourist version of pregnancy. What I really wanted to channel was that it’s an incredibly individual experience, whether that means you’re a happy earth mother or a hellbent tool of vengeance. I feel like the earth mother cliché has been fully explored, and we could all benefit from seeing something else.

This isn’t me saying all pregnant women secretly want to slay – although some might. It’s me saying pregnant women are people with their own goals, hopes, dreams and motivations, and that doesn’t have to be swallowed up by pregnancy. That was one of my fears: that my identity would disappear, and I’d be like a Stepford Wife the day after the baby was born. The whole film is really a kind of meditation on loss of identity. I turned the fear of violence against my own body outside of myself, as it were.

Ruth’s rampage is motivated by devastating grief – what inspired that dramatic aspect of the story?

I could have chosen to give Ruth a ‘funny’ motivation for revenge, but I was done with seeing pregnant women as ‘light’ and their concerns and demands as somehow irrational. It was a bit of a risky gamble, but I wanted to see how far you’d go with this character.

There’s plenty of revenge movies where men have lost their loved ones – Mad Max, Gladiator, Taken, John Wick – and it means that those protagonists can let rip on bloodshed as the audience feels it is righteous. I deliberately wanted Ruth to be morally troubling, so I held back on showing the audience what she’s taking revenge for. This means you have to do a bit more hard work to understand and empathise with Ruth. I wanted her to be someone who is the opposite of the pregnancy archetype; she’s looking to the past, not the future, in love with death, not thinking about new life.

Watch Alice Lowe discussing Prevenge

I actually read about women who had lost their partners while pregnant, and what was striking was the bitter cocktail of emotions. Some said they resented the baby for being alive, and many said they would swap the baby for the partner to be living instead. Some said that they felt coerced by healthcare professionals and relatives to “put aside their grief for the sake of the baby”, as if their grief was selfish.

All of this made me think about how much social pressure there is upon women to be self-sacrificial, especially as mothers. It’s important to show female characters on screen experiencing other emotions and actions than what we are conditioned to expect. You can see the whole of Prevenge as an American Psycho-type fantasy if you wish; it’s a metaphor for a woman tearing through the societal net she feels herself snared within. At the end of the day, I would hope Prevenge works on lots of levels. If you want to watch it as a jolly slasher then you can, or as a meditation on society and motherhood – that’s fine too.

Alice Lowe’s inspirations for Prevenge

Marie Laveau’s tomb, New Orleans

Marie Laveau’s tomb, New Orleans

I started researching the idea of spells and incantations and voodoo. I had this idea that Ruth is an artist, and so she draws and is fascinated by female deities and fertility dolls. People visit the tomb of Marie Laveau, who was a voodoo practitioner, and put three crosses on it as part of a rite. In Ruth’s ‘kill book’ she puts three crosses as an expression of curse/wish fulfilment against her enemies.

The frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, illustrated by Abraham Bosse, 1651

The frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, illustrated by Abraham Bosse, 1651

This illustration again informed Ruth’s ‘kill book’ and the image she draws of herself looming over a city with a knife in her hand and a baby in her belly. I was reading a lot about society and the individual in relation to writing the script. Hobbes talks of humans as being naturally disposed to violence; that we enter a ‘social contract’ in order to not just kill each other, and that gives us protection. And that you have to have rulers to enforce these civil behaviours. All of this informed a lot of the basis for the death of Ruth’s partner, and the baby’s views about society. Ruth is breaking out of the social contract but, at the same time, she thinks she is come to deliver justice. So in her mind she’s this big mother looming over the world to sort everyone the f**k out!

A Clockwork Orange soundtrack (Wendy Carlos, 1971)

A Clockwork Orange soundtrack

This soundtrack really inspired me and my composers. We wanted a sci-fi feel to convey Ruth’s alienation, and Blade Runner is in there too. It had to be cold, detached, electronic, but the retro-ness of it gives it a bit of warmth, personality, familiarity. A lot of the influence was 70s; for the ‘love’ theme I asked Toydrum to listen to ELO and Demis Roussos!

Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)

Possession (1981)

An oft-overlooked pregnancy horror film, in the sense that there is a ‘miscarriage’ scene and plenty of body horror. It is a very insidiously pervasive film. I love the use of the city setting, and I always remember Isabelle Adjani’s iconic blue dress. It inspired me to attempt to generate the sort of imagery that gets burnt into your retina!

Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

I was introduced to a new term, ‘bokeh’, which means often beautiful blurry light in backgrounds of shots. We got that in Prevenge, in the back of the taxi and in the city street shots. This was because I said to the DoP that I found the thematic use of artificial coloured lights throughout Eyes Wide Shut really creepy, and I wanted to try and get some of that! It betrays a kind of fatalism, a kind of design. Can fairy lights have an evil personality? I reckon so…

‘The Kick Inside’ by Kate Bush (1978)

I wanted to use this song for the end of the film; it didn’t work out, but the emotion still informed the ending. It’s this soft song, but the lyrics are actually about a girl killing herself because she is pregnant with her brother’s child by rape. It’s apparently adapted from an old folk song, and I wanted to explore old stories, folk stories, classical stories, which are often full of human trauma and bloodshed. It’s incredibly dark but the lyrics and melody are so full of forgiveness, it’s tragic. “You must lose me like an arrow, shot into the killer storm.” So bittersweet! Such a goodbye.

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