It can be easy to condemn criminals and those embroiled in unlawful activity, and while many who partake in this lifestyle are indeed immoral it should be noted that for some people caught up in a world of criminality it was anything but choice that brought them there. Thus seems to be a central commentary in director Ryan Prows’ low budget dark comedy Lowlife.
Interweaving several character plots into one central premise involving illegal organ harvesting, illegal immigration, and personal vendettas, Lowlife is both an enthusiastic love letter to the pulp fiction classics of lore and an original take on the crime drama narrative.
Starring Nicki Micheaux as Crystal, desperate for a kidney transplant for her sick child, all the supporting characters bring with them their own set of personal baggage that leads to an inevitable collision with one another. El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate) a hitman with a Luchador family history just wants to ensure his unborn child can carry on the legacy of Mexican wrestling royalty, while Randy (Jon Oswald) an ex-con with a swastika tattoo on his face will do anything to escape the stigma that literally can’t be removed. Yet all these characters are not presented necessarily as ruthless psychopaths (though El Monstruo’s bouts of rage may challenge that idea) but rather individuals caught up in these evil acts, not because they are evil themselves per se, but out of necessity.
Like some of Quentin Tarantino’s films (to which this film has been compared to by other critics), Lowlife features prominently the anti-hero; characters in a grey zone of right and wrong that can perhaps justify their own actions for a perceived greater good. Crystal isn’t a saint by any means, but she does shelter illegals in a motel and wants nothing more than to save her daughter, while El Monstruo does exhibit a genuine love for his yet to be born child as well as veneration for his dead father. These characters are flawed and do resort to crime, but are they really totally bad?
Written by a group of five including director Ryan Prows and Canadian Tim Cairo, this movie has shown the promising potential for greater work in the future. Due to its lower budget, not all the violence can be as explicitly depicted as Tarantino would, yet this leads to creative ways for the filmmakers to show graphic content. Inevitably negative comparisons to Tarantino may be made (a Tarantino-lite if you will) and while that’s not untrue, Lowlife is a good enough film on its own right that shows its creators originality and admiration for the masters.
Featuring moments of comedy, cartoonish violence and an ensemble of original characters, Lowlife is not a masterpiece but still a work of commendable traits. Though seemingly clearly inspired by others in the genre the movie has attempted to fashion its own morality tale in a satisfactory way. While what we see on screen shouldn’t be condoned in any way, the quirks and desperation of the characters at least make us question whether they are truly monsters or driven by something else.
For the director, Ryan Prows and his screenwriters’ Lowlife should prove to be an auspicious entry into potential further work in this genre or whatever else they should decide to tackle.
Ryan Prows' debut feature Lowlife is a promising start to a young career fashioning a slick story on the ambiguity of morality