BFI LFF 2016: Prevenge ***

Alice Lowe was the writing/acting force behind the incredibly dark and murderous comedy Sightseers, directed by Ben Wheatley that sent excitable ripples through BFI LFF in 2012. The format here for new slasher-comedy Prevenge is not much different in terms of style. It’s another great showpiece for Lowe’s acting talents in a directorial debut, while boldly using the serious subject of antenatal depression as its emotive vehicle.

It also helps that Lowe was pregnant at the time of making Prevenge, rendering it a highly intriguing exploration for those with any such experience of this illness. By using the jet-blackest of comedy, Lowe draws much-needed attention to the condition, forcing us to confront its reality – very astute filmmaking indeed.

Lowe plays pregnant Ruth, virtually full-term but grieving a life-changing event that gradually comes to light. Along the way, she encounters an array of prejudice from a variety of people, dealing with it in her own murderous way, supposedly spurred on her unborn child’s voice from within.

Sometimes the touchiness subjects are best dealt with comedy. Lowe guides us throughout this tricky terrain with her usual deadpan, vacant stance, turning everyday remarks ‘those with child’ encounter into the ridiculous and hence, justifying Ruth’s reactions. The first couple of vile victims get their ‘just desserts’, with the inappropriateness of the opening scene dialogue only (brilliantly) registering after a minute, much like in a real-life abuse situation where disbelief turns to horror then to anger at being made the unwilling recipient.

Lowe never allows us to pigeon-hole Ruth quite so easily though, keeping her varied and unpredictable – the only given is she’s finding pregnancy tough and will have her baby girl in the end. Ruth is both entertaining as she is shocking in behaviour. Lowe nails the internal thoughts any expectant mother has had when faced with ‘sympathetic’ healthcare professionals and those believing motherhood is a woman’s natural urge. This is where Ruth’s character lays the vital foundations for us to empathise with her. She is consumed by grief and feeling alienated, walking alone towards the inevitable in a comatose state. These are powerful character traits that could have been further explored though.

The production values do place Prevenge in the low-budget, B-movie bargain bucket, and while favouring sobering muted tones and unfocused camera moments to reflect Ruth’s state of mind, also dwell too much on some of the kills as to lessen the of the significance of the illness Ruth is displaying. Lowe only manages to claw this back by getting some superb acting moments out of her supporting cast – such as Jo Hartley as Ruth’s chirpy midwife, even though most characters are painted as caricatures on the whole. Yet the unpolished production values also serve well to mirror an imperfect mental state, so it’s questionable whether any other way (and bigger budget) would have worked better.

Prevenge is a fascinating take on the female killer, as society still battles with – and disbelieves that – women do kill. Antenatal depression might give the intent and some might question using this subject in a nonchalant way, but only by Lowe’s bold filmmaking does it become accessible and open to debate. Lowe delivers an entertaining and thought-provoking directorial debut in her own unique style that could have gone deeper, but that can only be praised and built on in her next project.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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LFF 2012: Sightseers ****

Never, ever underestimate the power of the open road – it does things to a person to release their inner being, good or bad. Ben Wheatley’s black comedy of hilarious proportions, Sightseers, about a couple who caravan around Northern Britain’s more unusual sights with deadly consequences is full of creepiness, delicious surprises, shocks and irony.

It has that unique Brit comedy quality; finding humour in the bleakest of situations, delivered with deadpan precision. As with any ‘road movie’, the fun is also in the wonder at where the travellers will end up? Will lessons be learnt? Will it all be worth it? Ever thought of campers as an oddball bunch that shirks off far-flung foreign holidays in favour of a dreary UK break? Sightseers does little for the image but will have you thinking twice about messing with that slow trailer on the motorway.

Writers Alice Lowe and Steve Oram play Tina and Chris, a newly united couple from the Midlands who plan a week-long break to such places as Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire and the Keswick Pencil Museum in the Lake District. Dowdy thirtysomething Tina lives with her obtuse mother whom morns the loss of her dog after an accident instigated by her downtrodden daughter. Chris who believes the world never gives him a break offers Tina some chance of happiness, before being left on the shelf for good. Along the way, a freak accident charts a new course on the couple’s journey, leading to all kinds of misdemeanours and a questioning of Tina and Chris’s true personalities.

Lowe and Oram’s pin-sharp writing is sometimes so brilliant that a lot of the observational humour associated with it demands a second viewing to capture all the punchlines and the nuances with which it’s delivered. This film has elements of the ridiculous to it – like Carry On Camping (there are skimpy garments involved) – but with sinister undertones, moving effortlessly between farce and gravity. What is far more intriguing is the couple’s warped justification to their acts that challenges deep-hidden desires in all of us to put rights wrong – kind of an extreme social experiment explored on film, so to speak. This dark comedy would also not work without that time-old Brit institution of class that features heavily in the characters’ thinking and being.

Wheatley makes sure that all the acts the couple are involved in are not gratuitous but have some misguided significance in Tina and Chris’s own little existence, even trying to appeal to the viewer’s sense of truth. Sometimes things get quite graphic – more so than an exploding bomber in Four Lions, a Brit comedy in a similar vein; so be prepared for some grizzly moments as it’s not for the faint-hearted. Sightseers is certainly another unique piece of Brit filmmaking that’s definitely worth a look for those wanting something new to sample this week at the box office. Both naught and nice, it’s an immensely satisfying watch.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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