Directed by Ryan Prows.
Starring Nicki Micheaux, Ricardo Adam Zarate, Jon Oswald, Clayton Cardenas, and Mark Burnham.
The lives of a luchador, an ex-con and an addict collide when an organ harvesting scheme goes awry.
Ryan Prows’ feature film debut, Lowlife, is a mean bastard. A film that smacks you in the face with serious issues while a Mexican wrestler wearing a powder-blue suit beats a man to a pulp and crushes his skull with his bare hands. This is a film that’s clearly inspired by Question Tarantino, but unlike the many, many QT-copies that came out in the 90s, Prows isn’t so much based on Pulp Fiction, but on the films Tarantino referenced in his explosive sophomore feature. This is a movie divided into chapters, navigating a grey zone of morality that plays in the same sand box as Tarantino, while making a fresh and pulpy new beast.
We open with an ICE officer using his power for personal gain, as he busts open the door of a room at a seedy motel somewhere in Los Angeles. Crystal (Nicki Micheaux) the motel owner, tries to save her guest from being taken in a sketchy solo raid, but the officer pulls a shotgun on her. Then the man then takes the illegal immigrants to a taco shack (for real). The owner of the shack is Teddy “Bear” Haynes (Mark Burnham) a nefarious small-time crime boss that’s the biggest asshole you’d ever meet. The tack shack is called “Teddy Oso’s Fish Tacos” and it doubles as a sex trafficking and organ harvesting centre. Oh, yeah. We find this out by watching Teddy hack up a person’s corpse and put their liver in a box full of ice.
Lowlife deals with some heavy current issues like immigration and drug addiction, but it also delivers heart-warming characters with sweet stories, like El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate), a Mexican wrestler clearly inspired by Mexican pulp noir from the 50s and 60s and famous enmascarado El Santo. Monstruo is burdened by the legacy passed down to him by his father, and his father before him. You see, everyone tells stories of the legendary Monstruo, a hero of the Mexican people who was as big as a mountain, but our Monstruo looks like a regular dude in a mask. His only hope is his girlfriend, Kayla (Santana Dempsey), who is pregnant with his child, whom he hopes will be worthy of Monstruo’s legacy. Oh, and another thing. When Monstruo goes nuts, he passes out just as the audience hears a metallic whine, and always wakes up surrounded by wreckage and possibly a severed hand holding a gun or a crushed head next to him. While it would have been great to witness the fight, this only adds to the black humour of the film.
I won’t spoil more of the plot, because I do believe you need to see this film to believe it. Just know that for the first half or so we follow a few hours in the life of four characters, while looking at the same events from different perspectives. Ryan Prows does a commendable job of making sure each seemingly insignificant background character in one chapter, becomes a main character in the next part of the story. And when the characters finally meet and things go down, they go down in a gloriously pulpy genre amalgam that’s as gory as it is entertaining.
Lowlife has a sense of humour that feels almost sadistic, as you laugh at the expense of people in really fucked up situation, yet you understand where it’s all coming from. The use of a handheld camera for the entire shoot, the mashup of electronic sounds in the music, and the Breaking Bad-like look at a city’s underbelly all mix perfectly. By the time the luchador with the sledgehammer, a gringo with a swastika tattoo on his face and a black motel owner with a shotgun enter a taco shack, you will not be laughing at the punchline, but you will cheer at the pulpy violent entertainment.
Lowlife is out now on VOD and select theaters in the U.S.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★