Few filmmakers are able to successfully pay homage to renowned action directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Guy Ritchie without failing miserably or ripping them off entirely. With multiple, interwoven subplots, ridiculous crime debacles, gruesome action and humorous scenarios, films like Pulp Fiction, Machete and Snatch bare a style difficult to replicate and a visible signature unique to their creators. Though he does not reach the same level of complexity as these distinguished storytellers, Ryan Prows does what many filmmakers dream of doing through his full-feature debut, Lowlife.
While collecting a debt for his boss, luchador El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate) allows his rage to take over, giving way to one of his dangerous blackouts. He wakes to the sound of screaming and the head of a man smashed in with a propane tank. Reporting to his boss, Teddy (Mark Burnham), the masked Mexican wrestler explains with a shrug that he was unable to collect the money owed.
Teddy, a restaurant owner and local crime boss who specializes in kidnapping illegal immigrants whom he enslaves for prostitution and organ harvesting, tells El Monstruo that he is done. Failing to see this as the threat that it is, El Monstruo returns home with Kaylee (Santana Dempsey), the mother of his unborn child, who is adamant about getting as far away from Teddy as possible. Falling into another raging blackout, the wrestler wakes to find his luck has taken a turn for the worst when Kaylee and his unborn child, heir to the mask and Monstruo legacy, are nowhere to be found.
Then there’s Crystal (Nicki Micheaux), who is desperate to find a kidney for her sick, former junkie husband, and she turns to Teddy for a black market organ replacement. We also hear from an accountant named Keith (Shaye Ogbonna) who picks up his long-time friend, Randy (Jon Oswald), from prison. However, he is shocked when he greets his friend who now has a swastika tattoo covering his face. The awkward car ride doesn’t last long before Keith finally inquires about Randy’s new look, which kicks the comedic aspect to Lowlife up a notch. However, before the duo prepare for Randy’s homecoming, they stop at Teddy’s restaurant for Keith to put his resignation notice in as the crime boss’ accountant. Since Keith owes Teddy money, this does not go as planned and the two are forced into doing a job which involves acquiring a kidney.
Heavily focusing on the subplots, Lowlife is told in true Tarantino-esque form. Broken down into three different segments, the film allows the perspective to shift in every varying situation. Sympathy is shown to each character in the circumstances of their affairs. While shifting from one ridiculous story to another, everything comes together in one foreboding climax with Teddy earning the film’s Scum Achievement Award.
Arriving on the festival circuit in 2017, this award-winning film is catapulted to success in such a big way with the help of the cast. While there are no weak performances by any means, Micheaux stood out, giving a level of seriousness and emotion that was completely unexpected. Though it does not come as much of a surprise, Oswald brings the comic relief, offering an outstanding balance to the film. Of course, Lowlife would not have been a suitable title if it weren’t for Burnham’s performance as the heartless crime boss giving the word “scum” a whole new meaning.
Impressively, Prows pulls together a directorial debut that successfully executes influences from dark, comedic crime thrillers, a standout classic seasoned with elements of the Emmy-winning television series, Breaking Bad. While Lowlife is of a smaller caliber feature with less layering than its predecessors, it retains enough originality to prevent it from feeling like a cheap knock-off. Adding a few brutally gruesome scenes, a horror touch is also added to the mix. What is delivered through this IFC Midnight feature is a must-see for action and horror fans alike.