Lowlife review: Surreal, violent Luchador gangster movie premieres at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival tonight
Premiering tonight at the 2017 Toronto After Dark Film Festival (after its World Premiere at this past summer’s Fantasia fest) is director Ryan Prows’s most talked about movie yet; Lowlife. Here, the filmmaker dives deep into drug and organ cartels, the loss of loved ones, immigration, human trafficking, reunions with friends and family and keeping legacies alive. Lowlife‘s group of misfits and their stories will have your sides splitting with laughter and your mind blown from start to finish. It’s that good.
Lowlife is one story told in four segments; monsters, fiends, thugs, and criminals. Monsters introduces us to Teddy “Bear” Haynes (Mark Burnham), a monster and owner of a human trafficking/organ smuggling ring, overall dirt bag and runs several fast food joints around town. We meet one of the best characters of the movie in Fiends, El Munstro (Ricardo Adam Zarate), the legend who is forced to be the muscle for Teddy and who is never allowed to remove his mask. He is about to be a father with Teddy’s step daughter and is thrilled knowing that this means the legacy of El Munstro can live on in his son. Thugs shows us our strong female lead, Crystal (Nicki Micheaux), just trying to make ends meet so that she can help her alcoholic husband get the surgery he needs. However, when they go to Teddy to help them, he finds them a perfect match in the daughter that they had given up at birth to him. The same daughter who is also carrying El Munstro’s child. Lastly, Criminals, is about Keith (Shaye Ogbonna), a black ex-hoodlum-gone-straight is picking up his long-time white friend Randy (Jon Oswald) from jail and trying to help him get back on his feet after years of incarceration. Randy, however, now has a giant swastika tattoo on his face that no one is cool with even though he isn’t a racist and is a good person. Jail can do strange things to a man. All their stories come together in one Tarantino inspired bloodbath! Oh my God, you need to see this!
The breakout performances in this film are Oswald’s Randy, the face tattoo criminal with a good heart and Zarate’s El Munstro. Randy’s character (which Oswald based on Eminem, for some reason), while we don’t get a whole lot of backstory on him, keeps surprising the audience, not just with his humor but with his loyalty. When he is released from jail, he just wants to get his life back on track but Shaye wants him to be his muscle when he confronts his boss at the fast food restaurant, Teddy. When Randy explains to him who is boss is, it creates a whole new world of problems. El Munstro gets rage blackouts where he screams and wakes up on the ground, usually having murdered one or more people. When El Munstro and Randy meet, Randy is in awe of him and to everyone’s surprise, Randy is well versed in Spanish and embraces the legend of the luchador. Once they meet, they become this weird yet wonderful buddy convict team; it’s something you’re more likely see within a comic book with surreal scenes played out in a dark and hilarious way. The intertwining stories within this film are captivating. They are hard-hitting and somehow light-hearted all at the same time. That says a lot about Prows’s direction and his style of work especially when you realize this is his first feature film. As well, the music and sound design adds to the overall intensity to the film by creating a wall of sound.
Lowlife needs to be seen by everyone with an interest in strange cinema. However, be careful, it will make you want to start hunting down drug lords and wearing a luchador mask 24/7.