Over the last decade-plus, actress/comedian Alice Lowe has allied herself with some of the brightest talents in British television and cinema, including the minds behind “Peep Show,” “The Mighty Boosh,” “I’m Alan Partridge,” “Snuff Box” and “Spaced.” Throughout, she’s developed a type: eccentric, deadpan and detached enough from other human beings to behave abominably when the mood strikes.
Until now, the purest expression of Lowe’s comic sensibility has been in director Ben Wheatley’s savage horror-comedy “Sightseers,” which she co-wrote with Steve Oram and starred in as a cranky working-class tourist who goes on a kill-spree against the obnoxiously posh. Lowe continues in that vein with “Prevenge,” her directorial debut (which she also wrote), in which she plays Ruth, a very pregnant Englishwoman slaughtering a seemingly random collection of her countrymen.
There’s not a lot to “Prevenge.” Ruth is Ruth, a mercurial sort who makes herself into whomever she needs to be to ingratiate herself with her targets. To a misogynistic DJ, she’s a ditzy club-goer; to a corporate middle-manager, she’s an eager job applicant; and so on. All the while, Ruth hears the voice of her unborn child, urging her to murder.
Eventually, the connections between the victims becomes clear (more or less … not all are fully explained). The explanation is mostly just a thin excuse for a series of bloody, darkly funny set-pieces where Lowe plays extended one-on-one scenes against other skilled thespians — all inevitably ending with Ruth pulling out a deadly weapon.
But while the plot is skimpy, the performances are rich, which turns “Prevenge” into a series of satirical sketches, dissecting the social dynamics between a mother-to-be and the various men and women who think they have an advantage over her. Lowe was herself close to giving birth when she shot the film, which gives a real physical presence and personal heft to every interaction.
This movie won’t be for everybody, but fans of Lowe’s prior work should be thrilled to see such a distilled dose of her perverse humor. Her take on humanity is empathetic — in the way that only a raging misanthrope can be.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: The Cinefamily, Los Angeles; also streaming on Shudder