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‘Prevenge’ Director Alice Lowe on Injustice, Releasing Her Fears, and Recreating Hell

Written by on March 24, 2017 

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Alice Lowe has long been known to fans of offbeat British comedy for some time, having starred in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Sightseers (which she also co-wrote), and more. Now her directorial debut, Prevenge, is hitting U.S. theaters. Featuring Lowe as a pregnant woman (with no need of a prosthetic belly, since she was actually pregnant during the shoot) urged to kill people by the voice of her fetus, it’s a darkly humorous romp. We interviewed Lowe over the phone, with her daughter audible in the background, to talk about mythological influences and working under budget constraints.

The Film Stage: The film makes recurring use of images of the furies from 1934’s Crime and Punishment.

Alice Lowe: I studied classics, so I studied Ancient Greek. The fury of the ancient goddesses, in stories of vengeance and revenge, that’s a concept that is thousands of years old. I stumbled across that film, and that’s a tiny section of it, but I felt the symbolism was so powerful, and the woman were so powerful in it, and I loved it. I really thought I wouldn’t get the rights to use it, but luckily we did. I was happy to be able to make that the core of expressing the main character’s feelings, her wrath.

Normally, revenge films feature people taking revenge for concrete injustices, whereas here, the main character is seeking revenge over what’s basically an accident. The furies fit that because of their elemental, above-good-and-evil nature.

We did go kind of out of the ordinary with that. I mean, there’s a line in the film where maybe she’s a bit of a cunt. I wanted to express this idea that there seems to be injustice sometimes in the world in terms of shit that just happens. From this woman’s perspective, it wasn’t an accident — in her mind, these people totally could have prevented it and they didn’t, so they’re all horrible and they all deserve to die.

As a mother, you’re bringing a child into the world, and you are expecting people to treat the child as well as you would like them to. I was thinking about society as a safety net – how if things go wrong for you, other people will help you out. I feel like that’s less and less true in a world that’s quite individualistic and selfish. So it came to me, this metaphor of someone who gets cut out, basically.

So she extends the nesting instinct of pregnancy to correcting the social safety net?

Absolutely. This is someone who feels like “This place is not good enough for my baby, this world is not good enough.” As far as she is concerned, she’s acting for justice. Sort of cleaning the place up. Travis Bickle was one of the inspirations for the film, so there’s a little bit of that in there.

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Each encounter between the main character and one of her victims has a different visual sense — different color tones and the like.

I went with this idea that she is moving through different circles of Hell. Some of it is fiery, some of it is disgusting and slimy, and some of it is ice-cold. It’s a journey through the underworld – an Orpheus and Eurydice sort of thing. She’s entered into the horrific shadows of being. That was my wish list, planning the film — I wanted this thing to be green or that thing to be blue. But I knew, realistically, that we didn’t have the art department to create that, so it was about choosing the right locations, and we were really lucky that we were able to express these ideas with just places that we found and got to shoot in.

You worked on a short schedule. How long did you have for location scouting?

I wrote the film over a very short period of time because I knew that we needed to get onto location. We had three weeks or something like that to start looking for places. It was a big leap to decide to shoot in Cardiff. I knew I wanted it to be set in a city, but I didn’t want it to be London. Once we hit upon Cardiff, our DOP lives there, so he was able to tell us, like – “Do you know any good overpasses?” “Yes, I know five!”

The story’s structured as a series of two-hander scenes. Is that how you originally wrote it, or did you adapt it to fit the needs of the shoot?

I wrote it knowing that we had to shoot in a very short time, so the whole structure of it had to be long scenes, two-handers, very few locations, very few costume changes, that kind of thing. And that dictated a lot of the style and the episodic nature of the script.

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How do you think it might have changed with a bigger budget?

I’m not sure. I like its sort of ordinariness. It’s a social satire in some ways, with ordinary people having strange things happen to them. I wrote it for the budget that we had, and it is its own beast. Though there are certain scenes — I would have loved to have gotten the whole cast together, take them to the cliff [for an important flashback scene of a climbing accident], and shoot some crazy stuff with them. That’s one of the few things where, yeah, if we had more budget, we would have shot that. But we didn’t. [Laughs] But the film is what it was meant to be.

How much of the depiction of pregnancy is your own experience vs. that of others vs. cultural touchstones, etc.?

It was less about my experience than it was about my fears about pregnancy, and fears about not meeting expectations or not fitting into what is expected of you – and feeling that you have to keep quiet about the way that you feel. It was a cathartic, wish-fulfillment expression of all the things you are not supposed to say or do with pregnancy. I didn’t have to do any research about it, because it was all coming to me. I was meeting a midwife, who sometimes I would find quite annoying. I’d go to prenatal yoga and think, “God, is this what it’s like? Are these the people I have to hang out with now?” Which was scary to me. Then, when I actually made the film, I felt like the fears weren’t there anymore.

Has that happened to you in filmmaking before?

What, where it’s been like therapy? I don’t know. I mean, this is definitely the most personal project that I’ve ever done for me. And that’s a big departure for me. I’m a comedian, but not a stand-up. I don’t usually do stuff from my own life; I play characters who are separate from me. And this character is separate from me as well, but with this one, I realized that my characters are all aspects of me. Kind of heightened versions of my personality, or parallel lives, or something like that. So I think this is probably the most honest I’ve been, just letting it all hang out and letting people see this warts-and-all reaction to the experience of pregnancy.

Prevenge is now in limited release.


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