Alice Lowe

By Sarah Louise Smyth

There are two central pervasive, yet dichotomous, Western myths about pregnancy: the first that pregnancy is a state of pure joy, where the glowing mother-to-be is in her body’s most perfect and productive state; the second, that the pregnant body is a disgusting, horrifying and unstoppable force, with no control over itself or the offspring is produces. British actor, writer and director Alice Lowe is fed up with these images.

Pregnant at the time of planning and shooting her directorial debut, Prevenge (2016), Lowe used her frustrations about stereotypes of pregnancy as inspiration for her horror-comedy film: “[Prevenge] 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.” [1]

 Alice Lowe in  Prevenge . Reproduced with permission from  Western Edge Pictures .

Alice Lowe in Prevenge. Reproduced with permission from Western Edge Pictures.

With the title functioning as a portmanteau of “pregnancy” and “revenge”, Prevenge tells the story of Ruth (played by Lowe), a heavily pregnant widow, who believes her unborn child is blackmailing her into going on a murderous rampage. Ruth, propelled both by her grief and fear of her fetus, stalks an anonymous British city day and night, seeking out her victims, duping or befriending them, before gruesomely stabbing them to death. As the body count grows, the film questions whether Ruth is carrying a demonic fetus. Is Ruth suffering paranoid delusions either from her grief or a pregnancy-related mental illness? Or, in fact is Ruth the monster herself?

The film is a great horror film in itself; the special effects create disgusting, visceral murders, while the lighting, music and editing construct a nightmarish, suspenseful atmosphere. But the film is also a nuanced and complex musing on the experiences of pregnancy and grief from the often-marginalized perspective of the pregnant woman. Horror cinema is no stranger to narratives of pregnancy. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), It’s Alive (Larry Cohen, 1974), Demon Seed (Donald Cammell, 1977), The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1980), The Unborn (Rodman Flender, 1991), The Astronaut’s Wife (Rand Ravich, 1999) and Grace (Paul Solet, 2009) are prime examples. However, despite pregnancy being primarily a cis-gender woman’s experience, all these films are written and directed by men.

 Alice Lowe in  Prevenge . Image reproduced with permission from  Western Edge Pictures .

Alice Lowe in Prevenge. Image reproduced with permission from Western Edge Pictures.

That Lowe was pregnant at the time of writing and shooting the film offers a unique perspective on the “horrors” of pregnancy. For Lowe, this film was intensely personal: “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.” [2] Prevenge, drawing on both Lowe’s experiences and her fantasies, imaginations and fears, provides both a unique space for a woman’s exploration of this deeply gendered event, and a counter to the dominant representations of pregnancy in horror cinema which so often represent it as grotesque, excessive and abject.

Before making Prevenge, Lowe was known as a successful writer and performer, beginning with her performance in the cult Channel 4 television series, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace (2004). From there, she performed small parts in other popular television shows including The Mighty Boosh (2003-2007), The IT Crowd (2006-2013), Horrible Histories (2009-2018) and Sherlock (2010-). She also starred in small roles in well-known British films such as Hot Fuzz (2007), Kill List (2011), The World’s End (2013) and Paddington (2014). The film she is perhaps best known for is Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers (2012), which she co-wrote and starred in as Tina, one half of an odd couple that go on a caravan tour around Britain before their frustrations at fellow tourists lead to a series of murders. This pitch-black comedy already shows off Lowe’s horror credentials, containing many similarities to Prevenge: the dark humor, the serial killer format, and Lowe playing, in her words, “the ugly evil weirdo who murders people.” [3]

Despite an impressive back catalogue, Lowe still finds it difficult to receive funding for projects, something which she explicitly ties to gender: “There is a point where you’ve proved yourself and proved yourself, and [producers and people who fund films] still perceive you as a risk, and that doesn’t happen to men. That’s what I feel, I see men failing upwards and you go: ‘I’ve worked with them and they were awful.’” [4] Like Hollywood, the number of women undertaking key roles in the British film industry is dismal. [5] However, Lowe is paving the way for fresh perspectives in (British) cinema; her horror cinema, in particular, is a reminder of how important and timely this is – and of the scares and laughs that can be had along the way.

Notes

1. Nikki Baughan. “From Kubrick to Kate Bush: Alice Lowe on her influences for killer mum horror Prevenge.” British Film Institute, 5 June 2017.

2. Ibid.

3. Emine Saner. “Alice Lowe: ‘I don’t mind being the evil weirdo who murders people.” Guardian, 25 August 2016.

4. Ibid.

5. Shelley Cobb, Linda Ruth Williams, Natalie Wreyford, “Calling the Shots: Women working in key roles on UK films in production during 2015.”


Sarah Louise Smyth is a PhD candidate in Film at the University of Southampton, UK. Her PhD examines the intersections of gender and space in several recent women-authored British films. It is part of the project Calling the Shots: Women and Contemporary Film Culture in the UK, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), and aims to research and write the contemporary history of women working in the UK film industry.


Additional Resources on Alice Lowe

Bibliography of Further Reading

Bogutskaya, Anna. “Natural Unborn Killers.” Sight and Sound. 27.3 (2017)

Cobb, Shelley; Williams, Linda Ruth; Wreyford, Natalie. “Calling the Shots: Women working in key roles on UK films in production during 2015.”

Cooper, H. “Alice Lowe’s Prevenge: A Response.” Studies in the Maternal. 9.1 (2017): 1–6

Lowe, Alice. “Prevenge: Alice Lowe on Murder, Cardiff and Making a Human.” Raising Films. 22 February 2016.

“Postnatal Confessions” [DVD Special Feature]. Available on Prevenge, dir. Alice Lowe (Western Edge Pictures, 2016) [DVD].

Puckrik, Katie. “Alice Lowe: ‘It wasn’t part of the plan to direct while pregnant.’” Guardian, 14 February 2017.

Aftab, Kaleem. “Prevenge’s Alice Lowe interview: ‘It was originally a jokey title but it stuck.’” Independent. 7 February 2017.

Select Filmography

Prevenge, 2016, director, writer, actor.

Paddington, 2014, actor.

Sherlock, 2014, actor.

Solitudo (short), 2014, director, writer, actor.

The World’s End, 2013, actor.

Sightseers, 2012, writer, actor.

Kill List, 2011, actor.

Horrible Histories, 2010, actor.

Hot Fuzz, 2007, actor.

The IT Crowd, 2006, actor.

The Mighty Boosh, 2005, actor.

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, 2004, actor.


CCL image.png