Every once in a while, you discover a movie at a film festival that’s just so above and beyond anything else you might see that it surpasses all possible expectations. That’s certainly the case with Ryan Prows’ feature-length film debut Lowlife, an amazing genre amalgam that makes you laugh, puts you on edge, unable to fathom what might happen next, and ultimately spurs the realization that you’ve seen a possible game-changer.
It opens with a border town police officer, clearly one who uses his power for his own illicit means, as he busts down the door of a room at a seedy motel where he finds half a dozen illegal immigrants. He terrorizes and demoralizes before bringing them in front of his even more racist boss. That boss is Teddy “Bear” Haynes (Mark Burnham), the proprietor of a local Mexican restaurant with a sideline in sex trafficking and harvesting organs, who is using these illegals for his own means, killing any that don’t meet his requirements.
As the immigrants are being abused, we hear stories of a legendary masked Mexican hero, known as El Monstruo (Ricardo Zarate), who we soon meet as he’s telling a teen girl about himself at her Quinceneara. He’s the latest in a long line of Luchadors with that name, and he makes up for his scrawny size with unknown powers. He’s also Teddy’s hired muscle, and after killing someone who owes the restaurant owner money, he seeks Teddy’s approval to marry his pregnant girlfriend Kayla (Santana Dempsey), Teddy’s daughter. When she mysteriously vanishes, he goes to the motel we saw earlier to retrieve her.
Lowlife is broken up into five segments, during the middle three of which—“Monsters,” “Fiends,” and “Thugs”—we’re introduced to one character after the next, and Prows’ camera shifts perspective in each vignette to someone who previously appeared to have a negligible role. This continues until a grand finale that brings everything together.
For instance, Crystal (Nicki Micheaux), the manager of the motel is seen briefly in the first two segments, then becomes the star of the third chapter. She approaches Teddy to find a kidney for her alcoholic husband, but she gets second thoughts when she learns the organ will come from her estranged, pregnant daughter.
The next segment follows Keith (Shaye Ogbonna) and his best friend Randy (Jon Oswald), just released from prison with a swastika tattooed across his face that gets them both into trouble, making this segment the funniest part of the movie.
Comparisons to Quentin Tarantino’s second film Pulp Fiction are inevitable due to the nature of the non-linear storytelling method used to further the story along. There’s a good chance Tarantino’s still-unequaled early masterpiece is one of Prows’ biggest influences, yet Lowlife never gets too confusing by telling the stories out of order, because it’s basically just showing the same story from different perspectives and showing more with each retelling.
When you get to the end, and all of the characters come together in what eventually turns into an epic Tarantino-esque shootout, you suddenly realize that the awful cop that kicked everything off is barely a player in the overall story. This also helps to understand the brilliance of storytelling prowess at work here, and that makes up for the generally low-fi feel and look of the overall production.
Lowlife is a grim and dark story about real, damaged people that somehow also finds humor in the violent situations in which they find themselves.
Lowlife just had its World Premiere at the 21st Fantasia International Film Festival. No details on who will release it and when.
Read and download the full Den of Geek Special Edition magazine here!