There are certain shows which deserve greater recognition than they receive. True cult classics which, in any sane universe, would’ve made household names of their stars. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was one such series – a hilarious lampooning of 80s horror serials and “Imaginers” like Clive Barker and James Herbert. Despite running for only one season in 2004, the devotion of its faithful hinges not only on its high calibre insight and lunacy, but also because of the performers it introduced us to.
Of the principal cast; Richard Ayoade and Matt Berry benefited most from the show’s acclaim. However, Darkplace wasn’t short on cameos from beloved icons; including The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barrett and Noel Fielding, and Father Ted and IT Crowd genius Graham Linehan (in a glorious minor role as a confused hospital porter).
Strangely, one of the show’s finest stars seemed to drift further from the spotlight following the show’s demise. Alice Lowe played blonde actress Madeleine Wool (who herself portrayed the show’s “token woman” Dr Liz Asher). While it’s worth nothing that Lowe has never stopped working (she’s appeared in many properties including Sherlock, The World’s End, Locke and Horrible Histories) instant recognition is not a quality she’s ever possessed.
But having escaped from the casual sexism of craptastic 80s garbage; Lowe has finally struck out in the boldest way possible with her debut feature, Prevenge. As writer, director and lead, Lowe demonstrates her resolve and idiosyncratic vision of what pitch black horror comedies can be.
Ruth is pregnant. Ruth’s husband died under extreme circumstances. Ruth’s unborn child is guiding her through a bloody campaign of vengeance against those who contributed to his death. It’s a simple premise, and one which Lowe explores with remarkable clarity and daring.
Ruth is not the most sympathetic of characters, but her honest acceptance of her mission is endearing, in a somewhat distressing way. Bringing a child into this world obviously changes everything, so the surreal nature of events actually makes a lot of sense. She is literally possessed. Her grief and anger are focused through the selfish demands of the life inside of her.
Prevenge is an incredibly personal project, as Lowe was herself heavily pregnant throughout the film’s production. It adds a further, captivating dimension to the film: the gap between fact and fiction is shortened. We’re brought closer into events; so it’s a relief that there are so many grim chuckles here. That being said; knowing that I can smile at a pregnant woman being punched in the face has given me some pause for thought.
The violence is suitably savage but not ridiculously extreme. There are no weak links in terms of the cast, and in fact one of the film’s strongest scenes is a heart-to-heart with a victim’s partner. But ultimately, Lowe completely owns this film. Her performance balances the necessity to appear normal against the torrent of emotions cooking away inside of her beautifully.
There’s also plenty of rich symbolism here. Ruth is obsessed with scenes from Crime Without Passion: a 1934 thriller where Claude Rains plays an unscrupulous and dishonest lawyer who ‘lives by lies’. As a setting, Cardiff is photographed in an uncanny, almost over-worldly fashion. In one commentary, Lowe states that she saw Cardiff as a ‘city of lights’, and wanted it give off an almost Blade Runner like vibe. It’s a curious comparison to make, but an appropriate one given that the creation (and valuation) of lives does matter enormously here. Also, it justifies the unexpected, albeit wonderful, electronic score.
Prevenge is super-smart, daring, original, inventive, poignant, gripping and remarkably entertaining. I know it’s only June, but it has to be said: Alice Lowe may have made the best film of 2017. Further to that, she may have made one of the best British films of all time.