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The (re)birth of pregnancy horror in Alice Lowe’s Prevenge

Chambers, Amy (2018) The (re)birth of pregnancy horror in Alice Lowe’s Prevenge. In: Women Make Horror: Filmmaking, Feminism, Genre. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-1-9788-0511-8

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Abstract

How does the specifically female human experience of pregnancy change in its representation and utilisation in horror when the film is conceived, written, and directed by a woman? How has the emergence of a core of woman directors in the horror genre altered the way women’s bodies and experiences are imagined on screen? How does horror intersect with discussion of medical ethics and practice? This chapter will use Alice Lowe’s 2016 film Prevenge to analyse the shift in pregnancy themed horror from being about women as invaded involuntary hosts to exploring the agency and experience of the pregnant woman. In Prevenge, the experience of pregnancy as narrative tool is mediated by a woman director/writer/actor, who herself was experiencing pregnancy, and thus the lived experiences and challenges of pregnancy are in turn given a new authority within this film. This chapter will also explore the medical framing of Prevenge with the role of antenatal psychosis in the experiences of the pregnant woman, and existing and persisting medical narratives in both science and fiction where the agency of the mother is lost to the baby who “knows best”. This chapter will build upon the author’s existing discussions of the domestication and medicalisation of horror in Britain and the US, draw upon medical humanities discussions of film as a space for discussing medical ethics and lived medical experiences, and expand upon existing and emergent scholarship on antenatal horror and women horror filmmakers Prevenge uses and disrupts the horror tropes surrounding pregnancy where women are powerless involuntary hosts. Tellingly the main character, Ruth (Alice Lowe), refers to her pregnancy as ‘a hostile takeover’ framing it as merger rather than a parasitic invasion. Unusually for a horror film, the Prevenge pregnancy is not the result of violence or supernatural intervention but natural conception and possible medical psychosis. Devastated by the death of her partner, Ruth/Ruthless goes on a murderous revenge rampage apparently compelled by her unborn child – a sort of pre-emptive revenge often fuelled by her victims attitudes towards women, pregnancy, and children. Writer/director/actor Alice Lowe was heavily pregnant during Prevenge’s production and has talked about her distain for the ‘trust in nature’ narratives that surround pregnancy. In Prevenge, a sentimental gynaecologist (Jo Hartley) acts as a representative for society’s adulation of pregnancy. The medic focusses on the fetus and patronises her patient by jokingly telling her she’s lost control of her mind and body but tells her not to worry because it is “all natural”. By placing an apparently natural event within a horror setting Lowe is able to discuss and disrupt traditional narratives surrounding the joy of pregnancy by making a domestic experience (as both a private and in some senses a public experience) obscene.

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