Perinatal Mental Health in Alice Lowe’s Prevenge (2016)

Curator's Note

The British comedy-horror film, Prevenge (2016), was written and directed by Alice Lowe who starred in the film while in the eighth month of her first pregnancy. The film is a revenge fantasy in which the protagonist, Ruth, seeks out and murders those who were on a hiking trip with her partner when he had to be cut loose from his security ropes, falling to his death. Lowe stalks and kills the group one by one, egged on by the voice of her unborn child.

The film uses comedy and horror to deal with real, under-represented issues. Ruth’s experience of hearing voices, imagining that her child is evil, and attributing demonic powers to the child are reminiscent of experiences of perinatal depression and psychosis. In this clip, her disturbed inner life is contrasted with a banal interaction with her midwife who repeatedly fails to understand the severity of her mental state. Ruth is infantilized by the midwife who speaks to her in a sing-song voice and underlines Ruth’s loss of control over her own life. Such medical interactions have a tendency to align the experience of pregnancy and motherhood with cultural assumptions about babies; pregnancy and motherhood are represented as gentle, loving and secure experiences. This representation ignores the physical (and often mental) horror of pregnancy and motherhood, particularly the loss of the mother’s independence, which Ruth tries to reclaim here by asking the midwife to call her by her proper name. Her flinch as the midwife touches her baby bump without asking shows how disturbed she is at her loss of personal space, representative here of her loss of mental and bodily autonomy.

These kinds of medical counters, married with wider social expectations about the role of mothers, their invisibility, their exile from the identities and sexualities that helped them negotiate their identities up until the point of pregnancy, all contribute to an environment that leads to poor perinatal mental health, alongside practical social issues such as the failure to provide free, universal childcare. Fantastika (an umbrella term covering the genres of horror, speculative fiction, and fantasy) constitutes an important discourse for approaching these topics, and one that acts as a helpful supplement to the unimaginative pragmatism of healthcare encounters which serve a normative, imagined, ideal patient.

Acknowledgements: This article was produced as part of a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, pf170027.

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