Alice Lowe spent a decade getting ready to direct her first feature, but after taking two short films to Cannes, she started to worry that the clock was running out. She was pregnant with her first child and had spent the past decade thinking about her first feature in between acting gigs.
“If you’re a woman over 35, no one is going to hand you a free pass,” the actress-turned-filmmaker recently told IndieWire. “You have to work your ass off. That’s what I am doing now.”
The determination led her to complete “Prevenge,” a black-as-night horror-comedy in which she also stars. Lowe plays the heavily pregnant Ruth, who has recently lost her partner (and the baby’s father) in a seriously weird climbing accident. And while Ruth isn’t necessarily bent on revenge, her unborn child sure is, and the expectant mother comes to believe that her little bundle of joy is telling her to take out the people reasonable for the death of the daddy-to-be. It’s funny and sick and weird – exactly the mixture Lowe had in mind.
The multi-hyphenate previously co-wrote “Sightseers” alongside filmmaker Ben Wheatley – which should give audiences a pretty good idea of her brand of horror and comedy – and she’s appeared in films like “Hot Fuzz” and “Kill List,” along with beefier roles in UK series “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace” and “Horrible Histories.”
Lowe’s earlier short films were co-directed with her producing partner, Jacqueline Wright. Their first short film, “Stiffy,” screened at Cannes in 2005 as part of Kodak’s Straight 8 competition; two years later, the pair returned to the festival with another Straight 8 contender, the Super 8 short “Stick and Balls.” In 2014, her convent-set horror short “Solitudo” – which she also starred in as a haunted nun – debuted at the genre-bent Fantastic Fest. Collectively, the three shorts set the stage for the mayhem of “Prevenge”: “Stiffy” turns the taboo of necrophilia into a vessel for a real romance, while “Stick and Balls” is a campy send-up of raunchy golf comedies. “Solitudo” cuts closer to “Prevenge,” combining psychological horror with a menacing monster.
In late 2015, Lowe was six months pregnant and coming to grips with the fact that her professional aspirations were about to change in a major way. Lowe admitted she had “kind of giving up the idea of directing, because I just saw that you don’t get female directors with tiny babies making films. I kind of thought, ‘Well, that’s it.'”
That’s when Western Edge Pictures arrived, offering up financing for Lowe to make a low-budget film – “no strings attached,” as she put it – and on a very snappy schedule.
Lowe couldn’t believe it. “I was a bit like, ‘Why is this happening now? Where have these people been the last two years?'” she remembered.
She initially turned down the offer because of her pregnancy – the very thing that was causing her so much professional worry – before realizing that what she perceived as a hindrance could actually become the meat of her film.
“The idea came out of this,” Lowe explained with a chuckle, gesturing to her baby Della, who sampled her first piece of cupcake as we spoke. (Della is, it must be noted, a very well-behaved baby.)
“I kind of took all my frustrations of what I was feeling and put them into the film,” Lowe said. Beset from pressures that came from both inside and outside – body changes, new responsibilities, different expectations – Lowe couldn’t help but feel that her principle profession wasn’t helping matter.
“It’s [those pressures] times twenty if you’re an actress, where people’s perceptions of you are everywhere,” Lowe said. “Suddenly, you’re a mother and people think different about you and you don’t have control over your job anymore. All of this stuff, I was feeling fairly grim and dark about, and I just put it in this film.”
The film’s rapid 11-day shoot was expedited by Lowe’s previous experience in short filmmaking. “I’m very pragmatic,” she said. “I don’t like to dick around.”
It helped that she had written the film’s pregnant protagonist for herself, and with such a short amount of time to film, Lowe didn’t need to worry about her growing belly causing any continuity errors.
“You can’t get too vain about your performance,” she said. “The one thing I am trying to avoid is being self-conscious as an actor.”
For Lowe, it came down to one essential decree: “Tell the bloody story.” The filmmaker remains keen on making bloody horror movies, and said that she was heartened by the changes she’s seeing taking root in the genre, particularly when it comes to getting other women behind the camera to tell their own stories — many of whom she counts as collaborators, including Nicky Lianos (“Dead Happy”).
“As an actress, I’ve worked with more female directors in the past three years than I’ve worked with in my whole career,” she said. “That’s a brilliant sign.”
Additionally, Lowe pointed to other rising female horror directors like Julia Ducournau (whose visceral “Raw” recently hit theaters), “The Babadook” filmmaker Jennifer Kent and “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” helmer Ana Lily Amirpour as further inspiration of how the industry is becoming more welcoming to their work.
“I think most successful directors have got horror in their background, and maybe women doing horror is a sign that there are going to be more women emerging into the mainstream as directors,” she said.
That doesn’t mean it’s getting any easier. “I am not making that mistake of like, ‘Don’t worry, now people will give me similar levels of roles that are as complex and interesting,'” she said. “It doesn’t work like that. You have to go and do it yourself.”
“Prevenge” will be released in Los Angeles and NYC and will be available to stream on Shudder on Friday, March 24.