Lowlife review Jon Oswald Shaye OgbonnaYear: 2018
Director(s): Ryan Prows
Writer(s): Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, Ryan Prows, Maxwell Michael Towson
Region of Origin: USA

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: n/a
Color, 96 mins

Synopsis: The sordid lives of an addict, an ex-con, and a luchador collide when an organ harvesting caper goes very, very wrong. (Source)

Insanity has a new definition, and it’s Lowlife. Director Ryan Prows’ debut is audacious, irreverent and unrelenting fun, an achievement given how savage the film is. Drawing inspiration from Pulp Fiction, yet having a voice of its own, Prows’ film shocks us into submission before the opening credits have even rolled, never slowing down until the emotionally draining end. Talking about the film, it’s hard to even find a proper entry point – this sucker’s near unclassifiable. From the ultraviolent crime drama that sits at the surface, to the blacker-than-black humor that stitches it all together, the film delivers a network of sprawling stories, each of which dissect an ensemble of marginalized criminals and a desperation to protect what’s theirs. Just like its host of wild characters, Prows’ film is ruthless and oddly as endearing as it is deplorable. Lowlife is something that just has to be seen to be believed, and is a misanthropic masterwork that provokes as much as it’s bound to offend.

To get a glimpse at how crazy the story is, one need only look at the the colorful assortment of thugs and losers at its core. Kicking things off is El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate), a luchador in a baby blue suit who doubles as a kingpin enforcer. El Monstruo grapples with an unfulfilled destiny – instead of following in his father’s footsteps and being a hero for the downtrodden, he helps to perpetuate a local black market organ harvesting ring. Crystal (Nicki Micheaux) owns and operates a seedy motel which low-income families and a revolving cavalcade of illegal immigrants call home. Then there’s the embezzling Keith (Shaye Ogbonna), who’s forced to recruit an old friend named Randy (Jon Oswald) for a do-or-die kidnaping caper with devastating stakes. Tying all of these hoodlums together, is a crime boss Teddy (Mark Burnham), who operates below a chicken joint, personally harvesting dead bodies of their organs. One thing leads to another, and as a tragic chain of events are set into motion, unlikely paths cross and everything spirals into an unbelievably bleak circus of bloodshed and mayhem.

Told in four distinct chapters, Monsters, Fiends, Thugs and Criminals, Prows’ film isn’t for the faint of heart. Despite this, it’s also one of the most sobering grindhouse films ever made, one that firmly highlights the volatile, Trump’d out world we live in now. Taking place in Los Angeles, Prows’ film is littered with dirty ICE agents, centers around people of color and exploits racial tensions and the consequences of addiction in a way that dares us to keep watching. While the film can be brutally hard to swallow, Prows’ slight of hand is that he makes us reevaluate our own perception and misconception about the radicalized criminals on display, never glamorizing the violence, but making us feel the emotion behind each action. In essence, the film somehow manages to have its cake and eat it too, never belittling the grim circumstance that lies beneath the surface but also making way for humor that exposes and makes fun of our own, deep frailty. As the film transforms with each non-linear, intersecting story, its anthology-like nature accentuates the fact that there’s never a dull moment, and barely any time to breathe as everything and everyone hurtles toward an inevitable, yet unpredictable showdown.

Lowlife review Mark BurnhamAnother highlight of the film is its ensemble. With such a stacked collection of characters, you’d thing some would fall by the wayside or fail to leave a mark. That’s not the case here. Everyone pulls their weight, and everyone is so wildly distinct. Zarate’s El Monstruo brings a tormented thug to the fore, acting like a classic movie monster longing for its humanity. Micheaux’s Crystal has one of the most devastating stories, fitting amidst the absurdity by giving it some real dramatic heft. Ogbonna and Oswald are the film’s riot act, with their chapter lifting up the film considerably thanks to their clueless delivery and winning chemistry. Ogbonna’s straight-laced, inner struggle is the yin to Oswald’s yang, who, emblazoned with the most hideous swastika face tattoo, takes us on a ride that we can’t and don’t expect. Burnham creates a new iconic baddie with the unapologetic Teddy, who delivers a highwire act of easy-going intimidation and aloof, cartoonish aplomb. Santana Dempsey’s heroin-addicted, pregnant Kaylee is the most distant by design, but still delivers where it counts with a fierce woman carving out her own freedom.

No matter how hyperreal or unhinged Lowlife gets, it still feels like a soberingly accurate snapshot of Los Angeles, featuring capers that feels as if they’ve been stripped straight from a newspaper headline. What Prows’ has accomplished easily cements him as a brave, bold cinematic talent, one especially needed in today’s overly sensitive climate. Bottom line, Prows’ film isn’t afraid to hit us where it hurts, juggling bloodlust, vengeance with understated truth.

SG