Filled with colorful offbeat characters and stuffed to the gullet with dark humor, Ryan Prows' Lowlife is a shocking and hilarious flick. Certainly not for everyone, the film is a dark comedy wrapped up in a caper film about illegal organ harvesting. Through some twists and turns the film delivers a wild rollercoaster ride - if you can stomach it. Shout Factory and IFC Midnight deliver Lowlife to Blu-ray with terrific results. The A/V presentation is first-rate while the bonus feature collection is filled with great material. If you like your comedies dark, edgy, with plenty of off-color humor, you should have a great time with Lowlife. Recommended.
"The Legacy is all."
I do not envy the person or persons involved in marketing movies these days. There's such a need to drum up hype that films are often burdened with the Sisyphean task of living up to expectations while still shocking and amazing an audience. If the trailer doesn't spoil the film completely, you're rarely surprised anymore. Then along comes a movie like Ryan Prows Lowlife. It made waves on the festival circuit last year and gleaned some interesting buzz, but even after watching the trailer I had doubts the film could possibly live up to its marketing. I'm just going to flat out say this film is an absolutely bonkers delight. There's just no real way to convey how truly nuts and hyper-violently entertaining this movie is until you see it for yourself. It's not going be for everyone.
Set in the urban sprawl of downtown Los Angeles, a criminal underworld is thriving right under the noses of local residents and law enforcement. Criminal kingpin Teddy "Bear" Haynes (Mark Burnham) runs a dirty operation of prostitutes and organ trade using illegal immigrants rounded up by dirty ICE Agent Fowler (Jose Rosete) from the basement of his fish taco joint. When a local motel operator named Crystal (Nicki Micheaux) learns from Teddy that her daughter Kaylee (Santana Dempsey) could donate a kidney to her ailing husband, the scheme to get the precious organ involving two best friends Keith (Shaye Ogbonna) and his newly released pal Randy (Jon Oswald) with a swastika prison tat covering his face and the famous folk hero luchador El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate) proves that no criminal enterprise is fool-proof.
If there is a complaint to be levied against the marketing of Lowlife is that it frequently highlights quotes comparing the film to Pulp Fiction. While the film features some slight comparisons in editing style and tone, the similarities stop there. Don't go into the film saddling it with that idea, it's not a just comparison. Sure both films are steeped in comedic criminal hijinks but this film deserves its own reputation. The trailer shows a rip-roaring thrill ride and the film does live up to that notion completely. What it doesn't do is show how dark it gets. The opening few minutes showcasing Rosete's Agent Fowler rounding up illegal immigrants and taking them to Teddy for "processing" is not funny stuff. As the credits roll you get to enjoy in gory detail Teddy taking apart the body of a woman he just murdered piece by piece and putting the organs in coolers full of ice. It's not pleasant - at all - but there is something darkly comical about it.
Next, we're introduced to Ricardo Adam Zarate's red and gold mask-wearing lucha libra El Monstruo. Like the silver-masked El Santo luchador films (or Sampson as he's more commonly known here in the U.S.), El Monstruo is a Mexican folk hero. For generations, he's protected the downtrodden and innocent. Unfortunately, this El Monstruo descendant has hit hard times and is under the employ of Teddy as a bodyguard and enforcer with rage issues. Even though he wears a mask through the entire film, Zarate is the show stealer here. He's physically imposing and his comedic timing and manic energy are infectious. The film wisely builds a lot of the action and plot around his character so he's rarely ever off-screen. If there's justice in the world, like El Santo, there will be a series of wild and bonkers El Monstruo films in the future. This is a character deserving of a franchise.
As much fun as Zarate is, the rest of the cast is an equal delight. You love to hate Mark Burnham's Teddy because he's so vile and disgusting, but at the same time hilarious in his own right. You love and care about Nicki Micheaux's Crystal and her plight to save her husband while reconnecting with her daughter Kaylee played wonderfully by Santana Dempsy. Then we have the true comedy duo of the picture Shaye Ogbonna and Jon Oswald as Keith and Randy respectively. These two get the biggest and best laughs, especially Oswald as the two old friends try to reconnect after Oswald's Randy was in prison for ten years and picked up a giant swastika tattoo covering his entire face. It's funny because the character himself is not racist or a bigot in any way, he did it to survive prison and he's so dim he can't understand why people won't let him explain himself.
If there are complaints to be said about the film itself; the tonal shifts can be a bit jarring and the editing could use a little smoothing. It teeters between the extremes of absolute hilarity and oppressive darkness. Thankfully things don't stay dark long. The opening is only funny in the context of the rest of the film, but as an initial indicator, it's a bit grueling and grotesque. Trust me, once the credits close the humor kicks in and there is some true belly laughs to be had. There were multiple points where I had to stop the movie and go back a bit because I was laughing so hard I was missing important dialogue. I came away loving the movie and desperately wanting to show it to someone - but I'm honestly not sure who I can show it to that would appreciate it. Like I said, it's not for everyone. However, if you give it a chance, get past the opening, and if after a few minutes you're not laughing your head off it's pretty safe to say the movie isn't for you.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Lowlife arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout Factory and IFC Midnight in a single disc Blu-ray set. Pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case with identical slipcover artwork. The sleeve artwork is also reversible. The disc opens to trailers for other Shout/IFC Midnight releases before arriving at a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Lowlife enjoys a strong and colorful 1080p 2.40:1 transfer. Details are clear and present allowing you to see and appreciate everything on screen - for better or worse. The opening credits where Teddy processes the dead body for the organs is gooey and grotesque. Facial features, clothing, and the film's impressive production design are nicely rendered throughout. El Monstruo's shed/shrine to his forefathers is a real treat. Colors are bright and bold with beautiful primaries. El Monstruo's bright red mask with gold trimming stands out beautifully. Flesh tones are healthy throughout. Black levels and contrast are on point and look great giving the image a terrific sense of three-dimensional depth. Teddy's underground dungeon facility is dark, gritty, and grimy but the great shadows and lighting give it a lot of depth. Free of any banding or other compression issues, this is a great looking transfer that highlights the film's many visual strengths.
Lowlife enjoys two effective audio mixes, an English/Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. I'll just say both are great for certain environments. I watched Lowlife on my primary viewing setup with the full 5.1 track blasting and it was glorious. The dialogue comes through with great clarity - which is important because it's the source of a lot of the humor. Sound effects are well spaced and offer a terrific soundscape with lots of imaging. This isn't a quiet movie at all so there is a constant flurry of activity. Scoring by Pepijin Caudron A.K.A. Kreng is also equally impressive and helps set the tone nicely for the film without intruding or overpowering the other elements. As I write this review I'm watching the film for a third time inside of a week on my second monitor using the 2.0 mix with my earbuds and it's very good. It's great for this sort of restricted viewing experience but it doesn't quite hit as hard as the 5.1 mix in some key areas. Some of the localized sound effects are lost or are flattened a bit. Dialogue is still clean and clear throughout. Both are great audio tracks but if you really want to rock out with this movie go for the 5.1 track.
Lowlife sports a hell of an impressive collection of bonus features. You get two fantastic audio commentaries, one more nuts-and-bolts while the cast/crew track is a real riot. The making of feature is unfortunately rather short but the bonus character short films help round out the film's characters without being necessary for the film. It's a great package and should keep you busy for a while.
I honestly didn't expect to come out of Lowlife in love with it. It was darkly hilarious and is one of the few movies that left me wanting more of its infectious energy enough that I needed to immediately restart the film and give it another go. It's not for everyone, but for those who like their humor dark with a shade or two of tragedy with well-written absurd characters, you should get a kick out of this one. At least I hope you do because I want more El Monstruo movies! Shout Factory and IFC Midnight bring Lowlife to Blu-ray with a terrific A/V presentation and a ton of great bonus features for fans to pick through. It's certainly not a movie for everyone, but I loved it making it an easy title to call Recommended.