Once known for her experimental theatre and playful roles in hit British television comedies such as Black Books and The IT Crowd, Alice Lowe has now hacked and slashed her way into the male-dominated world of the cult slasher with her debut feature Prevenge. The results are undeniably glorious, and they provide an incredibly lively and fresh take on the genre.
Having worked extensively with the legends behind a number of the Garth Marenghi TV series, this comedic pedigree really shows in Prevenge and it comes across a bit like Garth Marenghi does Kill Bill. Both directing and taking this film's lead role, Lowe holds the screen like a maniacal, pregnant Ruth Jones who wields a kitchen knife she most certainly is not afraid to use. (This is no prosthetic bump, either; the ex-Cambridge University comedian really was pulling off all her own blade-wielding stunts while pregnant.)
What's more, this slasher definitely has an unmistakably British feel to it. As a consequence, the movie can take a while to adjust to, but it's full of that awkward, off-beat British black humour that has become so internationally loved. And while this style's sheer uneasiness did definitely have a polarizing effect on some of the viewers who came to see Lowe's film kick off this year's Settimana Internazionale dalla Critica, those who stayed were in raptures at this fascinating out of competition piece.
Within moments of Prevenge starting, we're offered little in the way of a premise. Instead, we follow a clumsy, bewildered mother-to-be into an exotic pet shop full of snakes, spiders and all other potential hazards. The shop owner then emerges and proves himself to be rather unpleasant too as he offers the klutzy, unsuspecting new customer an opportunity to "touch his big snake." Just like that, Lowe turns on her extreme intensity and begins dissecting her flirtatious transgressor with a series of scalpel-like questions.
The exchange escalates, and before long the pregnant woman is producing a knife and leaving the lecherous man gorily lying in a pool of his own blood. This wonderfully hormonal rampage then continues, with it slowly being revealed that the deadly slayer is actually carrying out her spree following some tragic accident involving her husband. Naturally, there is also of course the voice of an evil unborn baby who compels her mother to do wrong (and this voice can pretty much only be described as sounding a bit like a cross between Stewie Griffin and a fetal Gollum).
But it really can't be understated how fun the schizophrenic exchanges between the mother and child are, or how quirky Prevenge's chain of kill really sequences are. After all, what could be better than a film that pitches a heavily pregnant woman against a portly pub DJ, a sharp-tongued businesswoman, two very middle-class hipsters and a surprisingly well armed fitness enthusiast? Assuming a remarkable array of personas, Lowe glides through all this with consummate ease and the film really feels effortlessly like a heartfelt homage to British indie cult filmmaking too.
Having both a really rough-and-ready cinematography and quite a shaky filming style, there seems a very conscious effort to place Prevenge within a proud tradition of low-budget British slasher fiction, and it certainly feels like a delightfully unusual experience to be watching it on the opulent screens here in Venice. Already represented for sales by ICM and XYZ Films, you can't help but feel that this film will have a successful distribution run both in the UK and abroad. Beyond that too, it definitely feels like a film that seems destined to become a cult classic.