Birth pangs

She's played a psychic nurse, a caravanning serial killer and now has the most bloodthirsty of pregnancies in her directorial debut. Is Alice Lowe as dark in real life?

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Forget gherkins and ice cream. Pregnancy cravings are taken to a whole new level in Prevenge, the devilishly dark comedy from the multi-talented Alice Lowe. For her directorial debut, Lowe comes out swinging (or more accurately, slashing) as a troubled mother-to-be who embarks on a bloodthirsty killing spree to please her unborn bundle of joy. As writer, director and star of the film – and having shot the entire thing in just 11 days – she’s proven herself to be just as formidable behind the screen as she is in front of it.

You’ll probably recognise Lowe from a range of British cult comedy gems. Her turn as sometimes psychic nurse Madeline Woole in Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place may have placed her on your radar back in 2004 but it was 2012’s killer caravanning comedy Sightseers, which she co-wrote and starred in, that cemented her as one to watch. Both projects, and indeed almost everything Lowe lends her talents to, tend to have one thing in common: a refreshingly macabre sense of humour. Prevenge is no exception. But the whole thing nearly never came to pass at all.

“It was more thinking by the skin of my teeth,” admits Lowe when we catch up with her just weeks before the film’s release. She was initially wary of committing to writing and acting in the film because she was pregnant, but came up with a plan that would accommodate her rapidly expanding waistline. “This idea came to me of a character who is the opposite of the fluffy mum stereotype, painting the nursery pastel colours – someone who was hellbent on revenge and obsessed with the past and death.”

So far so good. But then came the suggestion that Lowe should not only write and star in the film, but use it as her directorial debut as well. “I was a bit like: ‘Oh God! Would that be taking on too much?’ It’s one thing to be writing the screenplay and acting in it but directing it as well? But I kind of knew it was the right thing. I’d been wanting to direct a feature for a while, so I went for it.”

“I like to work really fast and light. I was really lucky that I was healthy and had a lot of energy.”

And went for it she did, squeezing the entire production period into a scant 11-day turnaround. Lowe says working on short films and low-budget projects stood her in good stead for such a hectic work schedule, and a cleverly written script allowed for shortcuts. “I like to work really fast and light. I was really lucky that I was healthy and had a lot of energy and creativity. I actually had a brilliant time making it.”

Things may have been sunshine and smiles off screen but on screen it was a bloodbath. In Prevenge Lowe plays Ruth, a maternal figure with a painful past who defies conventions in between knife frenzies, spurred on by the sly, butter-wouldn’t-melt voice whispering from her womb. Ruth’s one mother not worth messing with but what was Lowe trying to say about motherhood with such an extreme character? “There’s no propaganda message with it,” she assures us. “Often when you’re creating a female character or when you’re a female director people think you’ve got some sort of agenda. But really I wanted it to be a meditation on how people treat pregnant women in society and as individuals, what it feels like to go through the journey of having a baby and how it’s not always the rosy, pastel-coloured dream that it’s cracked up to be.

Prevenge
Glowing – Alice Lowe in pregnancy slasher comedy Prevenge. Main Photo: Buckner/Shutterstock

“I was going through sort of an existential crisis with my work. I wasn’t sure what having a baby was going to do to my career and whether I could afford to take the time out. Also, just in terms of myself I was like: ‘Does it change you completely when you have a baby?’ Maybe you become this soft, sweet, caring person? I took all of my fears and anxieties about that and put it into the film. Ruth’s someone who’s quite alienated and detached from her environment because she feels like everyone’s making assumptions about her due to her pregnancy, which she’s completely separate from. It was quite
a personal thing to me.”

And it shows. Lowe’s first foray behind the camera is a garish and visceral jaunt, filled with haunting visuals, gallows humour and saturated colours designed to disturb. Nods to genre staples can be found but it’s Lowe’s distinct style that really stays with you, leaving you laughing one minute and wincing the next.

“I wanted it to surprise people. It’s that feeling you have when you’re quite euphoric one minute and quite miserable the next. I wanted there to be lots of emotions, like the audience is being battered. You think it’s one film and then the rug’s taken out from under your feet. There’s no sense of comfort throughout it. When you’re pregnant it’s almost like being a werewolf or something, like you’ve got these hormones coursing through you that give you these special powers. I wanted to get that in the film.”

But it’s Ruth’s unborn baby who’s really calling the shots and this foul-mouthed foetus knows exactly how to get what she wants. “I don’t know if it’s possible to take it too far,” laughs Lowe when quizzed on the baby’s X-rated vocabulary. “I had this idea that to Ruth, the baby isn’t a baby, it’s actually rage, this elemental force. We found something in the end which was my voice, which was quite satisfying because there’s this whole debate: is it really the baby talking or is it just Ruth’s madness?”

Mad mothers aside, Lowe’s pleased that her alternative representation of pregnancy has been so warmly received by new mums. “I’ve had really amazing reactions – people really enjoying it and saying it’s cathartic. It’s like you give them permission to see a pregnant character in a completely different light and it’s a relief to people. I’ve had brilliant feedback.”

Would Lowe have made the same movie now that she’s a new mother herself? “I don’t know really. You’re always told: ‘Oh, it’ll change your life, you’ll be a different person, blah, blah blah. I don’t believe that’s true. I think you’re the same person but with different experiences. You’re just seeing the world from a different place and angle. I was never going to make a saccharine pregnancy film.”

There’s one review Lowe’s yet to receive. Has she given any thought to what her daughter might make of Mum’s film when she’s old enough to see it? “Well, I hope she knows it’s not an indictment of how I actually feel about her now,” she laughs. “I do like her and everything and I don’t think she’s evil. In fact, she’s like the least evil baby in the world. I take her to all the screenings.”

Prevenge is in cinemas now

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