Black market organ sales. A luchador trying to live up to his name's legacy. An accountant and his friend with an unfortunate facial tattoo. A mother trying to reconnect with her long lost daughter. All of these seemingly separate tales crash together for a violent conclusion in Lowlife, the debut film from Ryan Prows.
I first heard about this film out of Fantasia. The descriptions being tossed around mostly invoked Tarantino and Pulp Fiction, which was music to my ears, especially after I saw the trailer. Now that I've seen it, I can declare that Lowlife is its own beast, but I think comparisons to Pulp Fiction will inevitably happen because the movie is comprised of vignettes that flesh out the tale and are presented in a non-linear timeline. It also happens to involve a diverse group of lowlifes.
El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate) will be a crowd favorite and it was a wise move by IFC Midnight to feature him heavily in the promotional materials and art. He's a luchador with a famous name but who has fallen on the wrong side of the law and his own legacy. El Monstruo does the dirty work for Teddy (Mark Burnham), a low level crime boss in the organ harvesting game. With a child on the way, he has become more pensive about the man he has become compared to the man he was supposed to be, the man that was supposed to be a hero of the people.
Mark Burnham steals the whole movie as Teddy. If you've ever seen Wrong Cops, you'll instantly recognize him and his swagger. In Teddy's own mind, he's the star of his own story and he carries himself that way, bigger than any other personality in the room. Teddy is not to be trusted and the other characters never seem to learn that lesson.
I think the reason that the character of Teddy works so well in this movie is that he ends up being a classic sort of heel in the tale. If you were watching this story unfold in a wrestling ring, the boos would be raining down from the audience on Teddy as he would egg on the audience and earn their vitriol. If only there were a hero who would rise up and bring martial justice to the heel, to the crowd's delight. See where this is going?
There's been a stretch of time since I saw this movie and it has stuck with me more than many of the other releases this year. I like the universe it is set in. It's a little quirky but never quite absurd. I like that it starts at its darkest and actually lightens up as the movie proceeds. Most of all, I like that it has a strange little heart at its core and that it is embraced by the filmmaker.