Alice Lowe’s baby Della whacks two knives on the table as Lowe describes for me the nightmare she had before she knew she was pregnant: A horde of shadow selves in ninja gear were trying to kill her, and she had to battle Lowe after Lowe to survive. Lowe looks at Della, who’s banging away at the table, happy as can be in her high chair.
“Sometimes you ask yourself, ‘Should I let my baby play with these butter knives?’ But I can’t actually prevent her from playing with these.”
Della’s fine and contented and — yes — safe. But people have been asking Lowe lately if she’s nervous for Della to grow up and see Lowe’s new horror film, Prevenge, about a pregnant woman whose vengeful fetus instructs her to kill.
“We’re quite a gothic household,” she laughs. “Dario Argento posters all over the walls. The health visitor came after Della was born and said, ‘Oh, these are scary pictures,’ and we worried, ‘God, she thinks we’re Satanists. She’s gonna call social services.’”
Lowe — a mainstay of cult British series like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Black Books, Little Britain, The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd — wrote, directed and starred in Prevenge. She had the idea when she was seven months pregnant, filmed it at seven and a half — she shot it in a slim 11 days, so her baby bump wouldn’t noticeably shift — and had the picture locked at eight.
“There are very obvious reasons why people don’t film when they’re actually pregnant,” she jokes, recounting how she had to power through sleepless nights to get the thing done — the movie, not the baby. She even had to hook her newborn up to a winch to hoist her up and down a loft space where they were doing all the sound design. Della goes everywhere with Lowe, even on endless publicity tours.
“She’s been hearing the sounds of the movie since she was zero, so I think she’ll be quite comfortable with horror as a child,” Lowe laughs.
All this effort’s been worth it. The result is a pitch-black slasher picture that’s as funny as it is gory, with an ending that gushes not with blood but with genuine emotion. The pregnant murderess, Ruth, may be mad, but she’s also sustained one of the greatest losses of her life. This is a film that lures you in with the log line, then catches you off guard with its ultimate sincerity. It’s also, surprisingly, Lowe’s directorial debut.
Lowe says she was on the set of Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers (2012), the black comedy feature she co-wrote about two childlike serial killers on vacation, when it hit her that she could actually direct films herself.
“I sort of felt like the woman in Arrival when she suddenly realizes she could see the future — ‘I understand films, and I know how to make them,’” she says, mimicking Amy Adams. “Of course, everyone looks at you like you’re a nutter.”
It took her another five years of trying to convince the money people to fund projects from a director they saw as an unknowable variable. People not accepting that a woman who’d been writing and acting in the business for 15 years could direct was ultimately what frustrated Lowe into making Prevenge. “I don’t know how many films I have to put myself in the lead where people decide I’m not a box office risk.”
Industry types would still balk at the characters she wanted to play: “She’s too stupid, she won’t be likable.” Ruth is one in the long line of Lowe’s seriously flawed women, and guess what? Audiences relate to interesting, not likable.
Her biggest “bugbear” is being offered a comedy script in which her character, she’s told, would be “smart, cool, with a great job and she’s the only one with sense in the whole show.”
She scoffs. “So, yeah, you’re saying she’s not funny. Sure enough, you look at the script, and she’s the only person in the whole show who’s a real killjoy.” Creating a “strong female,” she says, is code for “boring woman.”
Since her early 20s, touring around in a Mini with Richard Ayoade, Matt Berry, Matthew Holness and Paul King for the stage show of Darkplace, Lowe has often found herself the only woman in a sea of men who aren’t quite sure of what to do with a weirdo like her — she simply doesn’t fit into a narrow view of what women are supposed to be. Producers have told her that some men she’s working with, despite having total respect for her, have no idea where she’s coming from, that she’s “like an alien.” So, she’s now often writing for herself. And now that streaming-platform-turned-distributor Shudder is bringing Prevenge to theaters Stateside, she’s getting more opportunities.
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They’re not all good, of course.
“It was quite funny, for a little bit after I’d made the film, I started getting offered roles to play pregnant women. I was like, ‘I just played a pregnant woman. I don’t want to play more pregnant women. That’s not a niche I’m interested in. Or a niche, full stop.” It’s even more of a turnoff in meetings when people tell her they’re interested in “female-helmed projects.”
“You sort of go, ‘OK, so just any women. You don’t care what it is. Any woman at all is hip right now, like it’s a genre.’” In the meantime, Lowe’s writing herself into her next project, a romantic comedy.
When the waiter drops by our table, Lowe’s eyes dart to Della, who’s about to drop a grilled cheese to the floor. Lowe shrugs. She made a kind of vow that she wouldn’t be one of those overprotective parents and tries not to focus all her attention on her daughter. Her biggest fear about having a kid, after all, was losing herself and her career. But what she’s learned in her year of being a parent and director is that you take things as they come, and, sometimes, it’s OK to let the baby play with knives.