Lowlife (Review) Brings a new meaning to giving an arm and a leg…

lowlife

LOWLIFE

 

THE SETUP

Lowlife is a brand new Action/Comedy/Drama film just released on VOD, Co-Written by Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, Ryan Prows (who also directs) and Maxwell Towson. Presented in a non-linear fashion, Lowlife is a story set in seedy suburbia, Los Angeles and centers around the lives of three mysterious characters. A heavily pregnant, Kaylee (played by Santana Dempsey) whose struggling with a drug habit and wants to escape the clutches of an overbearing substitute stepfather in Teddy “Bear” (Mark Burnham), who happens to deal in organ trafficking and sex trading. Then there are ex-con buddies, Randy and Keith (played respectively by Jon Oswald and Shaye Ogbonna) who re-unite shortly after one has just done time for the other, but they end up in over their heads, becoming a third-party in a kidnapping scheme. El Monstruo (Ricardo Zarate) is a morally torn failed luchador working as a henchmen/debt collector for Teddy. Complicating matters is his relationship with Kaylee, and the desire to see his soon to be born son live up to the infamous heights of the family legacy. At the centre of it all though is Crystal (played by Animal Kingdom’s, Nicki Micheaux), a motel owner with a dying husband and a connection to the source of all the drama. These characters will all cross paths across the course of 24 hours, ensuring none of their lives will ever be the same again. The film also stars Jose Rosete, Jearnest Corchado and Clayton Cardenas.

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THE GOOD

I’d heard some positive rumblings about Prows debut feature-length film but hadn’t seen a great deal of press for it other than the trailer that was released a few months back. I’m usually neither here nor there when it comes to how much I want to know about a film before going in, but Lowlife is certainly one of those films you’re better off knowing as little as possible about (perhaps I’ve said too much already). This is an American production but with both English and Spanish languages spoken throughout. DP, Benjamin Kitchens has an extensive list of shorts to his name and the experience shows through his cinematic presentation style. I really respect the fact that Prows didn’t opt for the grindhouse aesthetic appeal here. Now don’t get me wrong, that can work wonders when done right, but with this brand of darkly comedic and violent material it’s great to see the vibrant grading filtering through the lens. The audio track is loud and clear and the score evokes similar bouncing crime/caper tones that can be heard in any number of Guy Ritchie’s films. The likening to Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” is warranted I suppose, especially given the timeline structure and the fact that particular film bought together a multitude of questionable characters all with their own motivations for acquiring a mysterious briefcase. Only in this case, the case comes in the form of a woman instead. The action comes on steady, and although it’s graphic in nature Prows is vigilante of how it could come across if presented with shock value in mind. Burnham’s character is undoubtedly distasteful with his exploits and at moments throughout the film he’s quite violent, but he never crosses that line or falls into an imitation of something. With that in mind, those hoping to see some bloodshed will not be disappointed. A fair chunk of what’s depicted is in the aftermath of certain events, but the practical effects work is still superb. The film opens with some “prep work” (for lack of a better term) where we’re presented with a full body being sliced and diced. The highlight comes at the climax of the film which sees, gun shots, neck slicing and a head smashing in all its bloody glory.

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Lowlife is divided into three cleverly conveyed and consistently entertaining chapters titled “Monsters”, “Fiends” and “Thugs”, where each dedicates ample screen time to a different but aptly labelled individual. Prows, and perhaps what might just be the largest ensemble of Co-Writers for an independent film, put all their focus solely on character arc and smart exposition and it’s almost single-handedly the reason this film is as good as it is. It’s common in these types of films consisting of a multitude of characters for there to be a few throw away bit-parts, such is not the case with Lowlife. Excusing a father and her daughter who are secondary characters introduced at the very beginning of the film, everyone else is given equal screen time and development. Each act picks up at an interesting point in the time line and you begin to see it mold and take shape to uniformly entwine with another characters story mid arc. The acting is impressive from all involved. Nicki brings real sympathy to motel owner Crystal, and more importantly you get a clear insight into her own challenges and perhaps some of the reasons for the decisions she’s made in her life. While you don’t see Ricardo’s face due to the mask he dons, you do sense he’s conflicted. A pause within an emotional beat is enough to convey that but I also enjoyed those hints of light heartedness in him. Such as him feeling the need to state his name at the end of conversations on the phone with people who clearly already knew who he was. Dempsey’s character keeps a very level head given her predicament, it’s a nice change of pace to see someone acting rationally in a heightened situation. Everyone is great to watch but it’s really the pairing of Oswald and Ogbonna that serve as the cherry on top of what is already one hell of a cake. These two guys have superb comedic timing and the most natural chemistry of the bunch, comparable to that of Travolta and Jackson’s characters in Pulp Fiction. Ordinarily I’d be apprehensive about Oswald’s portrayal of what can only be described as an extremely “white” character, but the purposeful race humor, the characters naivety and innocence damn well won me over. It’s difficult to write interesting and layered antagonists let alone get an audience to like them, well-played guys.

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THE BAD

So the whole Pulp Fiction thing. It’s not necessarily that any one set piece in Lowlife was lifted straight from Tarantino’s iconic film, it’s just that overall contrast of violence and humour and a sense that Prows and Co thought they could construct something similar, and why not I suppose? I personally saw more of something like “Running Scared” or even the completely underrated “Pawn Shop Chronicles” in this one than I did anything of Quentin’s body of work but still, I must mention it all the same https://adamthemoviegod.com/pawn-shop-chronicles-review/ Mark Burnham’s “Teddy” is probably the weakest character of the bunch when in reality he should be one of the strongest. Whilst the performance was solid, even if slightly more jovial than I personally prefer my villains to be, it still feels like the character should’ve been more menacing than he was. Maybe the intention was for him to seem small time, to give off the false impression that he’d only been able to get away with these doings because he’d never been challenged by anyone. I’m not sure. I would’ve liked to have seen that written with a different approach.

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It’s multi million dollar releases like “Black Panther” and “Avengers Infinity War” that are all the rage and garnering all the accolades early in 2018, and meanwhile, slices of independent brilliance like “Lowlife” aren’t being talked about at all. We need to change that people. This is a stellar first feature-length film from Ryan, it stirs up a wonderful mix of emotions and tonally calls to mind films like the aforementioned “Pulp Fiction” and the similarly independent “Pawn Shop Chronicles”. I love the poster art, the cinematography is sharp and the music works well. When it hits the violence is visceral and swift, the practical blood and gore looks great too. Make no mistake about it though, Lowlife is a character piece penned by a handful of extremely creative hands. These are some of the richest characters you’re likely to see in any crime film of this nature. They’re all well-rounded, flawed, so true to life and ultimately inherently watchable. The dialogue is smart, the back and forth organic and there’s so many scene stealing moments. The pacing is perfect and all the characters allow this film to breathe and in turn interfuse a tonne of heart into it. Everyone is great but Jon and Shaye are hilarious in their respective roles, reminiscent of Paul Walker and Kevin Rankin’s characters in Pawn Shop Chronicles. I do think Teddy could have been presented as a more powerful figure and if you want to criticize the script for its Pulp Fiction style narrative and atmosphere no one’s going to hold that against you. Still, that’s no reason to shy away. Those two things aside, Lowlife is at this very moment the definition of a hidden gem. This film is fantastic and it’s currently available for viewing on digital platforms such as VOD or you can pre-order the film from Amazon, slated for an August release. Check out the films official trailer below!

My rating for “Lowlife” is 8.5/10

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