Lowlife [2017]: Fantasia Film Festival Review

Almost 2 decades down the line Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” is still gleaming its shadow over every film that intercuts the maddening and messy life of people of the underbelly. Albeit comparisons to Tarantino’s classic are evident, it would be too harsh to profusely judge Ryan Prows’s directorial debut on that ground alone. Juggling an array of interesting characters who each have an agenda of their own, Prows’s “Lowlife” is an amusing piece that summons them all to the gates of hell as they battle out their demons and demeanors.

The film revolves around three notable timelines titled – “Monsters”, “Fiends” and “Thugs.” Where all of them come together in an edgy and brilliantly written 4th chapter called “Criminals.” Opening with the lowest of the Lowlifes – Teddy Bear Haynes (Mark Burnham) who is a restaurant owner to the world. Teddy is a vile, loathsome and unforgiving lunatic, who pimps kidnapped young girls while also driving a grim organ wholesale business on the side.

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“Monsters” deals with El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate). A masked, ex-luchador who has always regretted his life for not following the legacy of ‘El Monstruo’, which was passed onto him by his father. While he wishes to be a savior, he is left with the breadcrumbs of Teddy as he brings random men to his pimping grounds. He can’t help his Hulk-like violent urges where he passes out destroying everything in sight. His ex-junkie wife is pregnant with his child which seems like his only ray of hope.

‘Fiends’ deal with ex-junkie Crystal (Nicki Micheaux) who runs a hotel (which also works as a focal point of all the chapters) and has to deal with an alcoholic husband who literally tapes bottles of whiskey to his hands wishing for his almost dead kidney to burst out. The hopeful Crystal has however arranged a kidney that fits him. Which also brings us to El Monstruo’s junkie pregnant wife again.

“Thugs” (which is probably the best part of the chapters) deals with Randy (John Oswald) & Keith where the prior is released after an 11-year prison sentence. As Randy & Keith run down their hilarious nostalgia, they end up at Teddy’s Place (No! You don’t get points for guessing it right). They are forced into a job that obviously involves El Monstruo’s junkie pregnant wife (no points for guessing that right, either).

Written by six screenwriters, “Lowlife” is admittedly a tale of fuck-ups. Every single one of them is stuck in a quagmire of self-driven messy vignettes. Brutal, disruptive and filled with loose ends that meet together somewhere in the third act, the film cautiously plants seeds of overly heinous acts of selfishness. Unlike Tarantino’s films that are driven by dialogues, every single character here is driven by actions that are governed by something or someone they care about. Which, in spite of its comical wallops, becomes emotionally resonant to a point of necessity. There’s a redemption of sorts in “Lowlife” that is hardly seen in a pulpy comic-capers like this one. 

Ryan Prows’s film subverts most of the cliches found in pulpy actioners with its strong grasp on its bizarrely hilarious characters. Characters who are just as confused and clueless as the audience who will be busy constantly resolving their fate in a certain direction. In spite of the average acting performances and an insight that doesn’t really matter after the credits roll, “Lowlife” is easily one of the better-written crime thrillers of its own accord. 


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