Q: What do you get when you team up a luchador, a pregnant heroin addict, a desperate motel clerk and a pair of thugs? A: Lowlife.
Let’s bitch it out…
I’ve been hearing about Lowlife since it broke out last summer at Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. At the time I convinced myself that I wasn’t interested; the trailer looked cheap, the premise screamed Tarantino knock-off and I wasn’t all that intrigued by the odd cast of characters.
Then it started winning awards…and people I respect began to champion it…and then it won some more awards.
Clearly something was special about this film and clearly I was the one who was missing out. A screening later and I’m officially a convert.
Lowlife certainly does affect a Tarantino vibe, falling somewhere between Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction with its oddball cast of characters, its narrative divided into non-sequential chapters that bleed into one another and a fair amount of outlandish, over the top violence. It’s also very culturally-specific to the American South, focusing on illegal immigrants, human trafficking, Mexican fighting and poverty.
Most memorably, however, is its confidence. The script is so assured of how everything comes together and director Ryan Prows crafts a completely believable world packed with outlandish characters, extreme violence and outrageous situations. Throw in a healthy dose of humour to help it all go down easy and you have one hell of a memorable film.
Lowlife opens on a dark and disturbing note as ICE Agent Fowler (Jose Rosete) rounds up a group of illegal immigrants at a motel, lines them up for crime boss Teddy Bear Haynes (Mark Burnham), singles out the lone young woman for prostitution and murders the rest for their organs. It’s a deeply unsettling introduction to the world of Lowlife, but if audiences can hold out, the film immediately uses (dark) humour and levity to balance out its grim, violent tendencies.
Following the credits, the film is divided into four chapters, each of them designated by a memorably descriptive title card (Monsters, Fiends, Thugs, Criminals). Each chapter focuses principally on a single character (or set of characters), which allows the five credited writers – Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, Maxwell Michael Towson and Prows – to introduce individual backstories and motivations. Not unlike Pulp Fiction, the other characters often appear or intersect in each other’s chapters, though (humourously) they are frequently unable to communicate or understand each other. Each time a chapter ends, the rising action advances a little more so that by the time the film enters its last chapter, everyone is in the same space and the events of the climax have been set in motion.
In addition to Prows’ propulsive direction, which makes the film feel jittery and alive, Lowlife delights in its odd collection of fascinating characters, each of whom have unique, memorable traits. The plot is beyond lurid, but it is palatable because all of the actors are wholely dedicated to their roles.
Seeing how this diverse mix of characters and storylines intersect is half of the fun. Considering how the film begins, I didn’t anticipate cackling over a desperate woman trying to save her sick husband by commissioning an illegal kidney heist on a pregnant heroin addict. But that kind of unexpected development is exactly where the film excels.
The Bottom Line: Lowlife is delightful. Filled to the brim with attitude, energy and memorably odd characters, this unique crime caper is worth well seeking out. If audiences can overcome the grim beginning, they’re in a for a treat.
Lowlife is playing at What The Fest!? on Sunday, April 1 and arrives on VOD on April 6.