The top genre film fest in the world, Fantasia Festival, has been underway now for a couple of weeks and is set to wrap up next Wednesday. It’s easy to get bogged down by all the films, but I’m here to help a little bit. Last week marked the world premiere of director Ryan Prows’ explosive crime caper Lowlife and there’s a lot to love about the film.
The film follows a handful of characters that all eventually converge in an explosive ending that will feel all too familiar but still pretty damn fun. The primary character is El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate), a famous luchador and hero of the oppressed who now works for a nasty cartel organ smuggler named Teddy (played by Mark Bunrham who is channeling his best Kevin Corrigan). Teddy tends to humiliate, kidnap and kill the very people who look to El Monstruo for help. His only mission in life is to keep the El Monstruo name alive and that’s where his wife Kaylee (Santana Dempsey) comes in. Kaylee is a heroin addict that’s also eight months pregnant. She’s also the step daughter of Teddy. Cue Crystal (Nicki Micheaux), a former addict who is trying to harvest a kidney for her dying husband. After that, add two ex-cons Keith (Shaye Ogbonna) and Randy (Jon Oswald) to the equation for good measure and you can expect every single one of aforementioned paths to cross at some point.
As you might be able to guess from the synopsis above, Lowlife has a very early Tarantino-esque feel to it both in style and writing. The big difference is that Tarantino’s films had known stars in it and had much wittier and charismatic scripts while Ryan Prows’ delivers relatively straight forward dialogue and was written by five people. Ever though Tarantino’s films had known stars, the acting felt very similar to Lowlife. The acting had that early 90s indie feel to it, where the dialogue worked, but there was an amateurish nature to the performances and deliveries that would almost, and occasionally did, take you out of the film.
While you can feel the Tarantino inspiration pulsing throughout the entire film, Prow’s feature certainly has some unique elements that result in either great cinema or, at the very least, on-point humor. My first compliment has to do with the filmmaking/editing of when El Monstruo loses control of his emotions. The ear-piercing rage that results in him (possibly) blacking out and doing serious damage to who/whatever is around him was a very effective approach to simplifying the violence. It was also pretty comical as well but that would soon evaporate once he came to and the story pushed onward.
As for the humor, all you have to look at is Randy. SPOILER Randy is hilarious not only because he’s a white guy from Compton, but because his stint in jail resulted in him getting a tattoo of a giant swastika on his face. Seriously. He isn’t racist either which is the best part and assumes people will still treat him like a normal person. As a result, Jon Oswald’s performance gives us a few chuckles and smiles once we reach Randy and Keith’s chapter of the film. END SPOILER. There’s also, what I like to call, The Great Pregnant Chase, that’s sure to make you laugh from how ridiculous and nonsensical it is.
Even with all my comparisons, Lowlife does feel pretty original. The setting of grimy LA adds an authentic layer that gives the film more depth and personality. The diversity makes sense and the likelihood of all these paths crossing actually feels pretty realistic. At the same time, the film is also a pretty sobering look at the lower classes of American society, the people that struggle every day and the violence that individuals can easily be caught up in from desperation.
Fantasia Fest believes Lowlife will become an instant classic and gives the film incredible praise. I’m not of that belief, but I do believe that Lowlife showcases the potential talent of Ryan Prows and a filmmaking team ready to take the world by storm. There is a lot of potential boiling over from this film and with some acting/script polishing for future flicks, there’s no doubt in my mind this team will have a bright future. If you’re a Tarantino or genre filmmaking fan I definitely recommend checking Lowlife out, you certainly won’t regret and you’ll be at the forefront of watching an exciting new filmmaker blossom.