LOWLIFE is a hard movie to categorize due to its ability to switch gears and deftly change its tone to hit the intended effect. Don’t get me wrong, it’s intended effect is often brilliant. But because of that, I found myself struggling to start this review. So I gave myself some time to mull it over. And throughout my day the two things that keep coming to mind are context and consequence. LOWLIFE does both extremely well.
Every scene in LOWLIFE has a purpose. If it’s not the culmination of prior events, it’s building towards future ones. With so many moving pieces, you’d think things would get chaotic, but director Ryan Prows shows restraint and rewards action with reaction–never over-complicating the process and never losing the narrative thread. It’s an impressive feat for sure. For example; let’s say “character A” pushes a block into place, in the next scene “character B” needs to react to that block impeding their progress. It’s a very simple tool but so effective in story building. And this type of thing happens over and over throughout the run of the film, and it kept my attention utterly rapt until we reach the Tarantino-esque finale that I won’t forget anytime soon.
As first glance LOWLIFE might be considered a crime drama, but as the character motivation becomes clear and personal relationships become paramount, you realize LOWLIFE is really a story about survival and the lengths people will go to keep their humanity. LOWLIFE ran the gamut of my emotional state. There are points in the film where I was audibly gasping in shock, a few times I was laughing nervously about a precarious situation, and there was even a moment towards the end where I got choked up a bit.
Director Ryan Prows may not be a name you’ve heard of, but if there’s any justice in the world that’ll change. What he’s managed to pull off with LOWLIFE is exceptional. Each scene is expertly handled. Shot mostly with a handheld camera, even stationary scenes are made to feel personal and unfiltered. That feeling is helped by a strong cast that all fit their roles well. Each character is a cog in the bigger wheel of the plot. And in that respect, they all give weighty performances. Standouts being Richardo Adam Zarate who conveys so much personal damage even with his face covered in a Mexican Luchador mask and Nicki Micheaux who pours her soul into her character with often gut-wrenching results.
On the technical side of things, LOWLIFE has some of the best sound effects and cues this side of IT FOLLOWS. It’s an impressive feat to get my heart pounding while watching a character watch other characters. Where other films would go for a subdued approach to such a scene, LOWLIFE trusts that you know what’s at stake and as every situation becomes more desperate than the next, the sound direction matches it every step of the way. As I mentioned before, most of the film is shot free camera style which lends it an unwashed credibility that establishes the setting and lifestyle we’re dealing with perfectly. When we see on screen violence, it’s visceral and personal. Prows obviously understands there’s a natural brutality to being shot that doesn’t need to be exaggerated. Bodies don’t fly through windows, and heads don’t explode all willy nilly. LOWLIFE treats violence as a natural act, and as such makes it so much more savage in the process.
There’s not a lot to complain about in LOWLIFE, the action is intense, the acting is great, and the story is its strongest aspect. With that being said, if I were forced to nitpick, I did find it sort of convenient during that one act of the film when those three characters decided to go to that locations. You’ll know it when you see it. Or not because it’s really not that big of a deal against the overall quality of the film but it did catch my attention and I feel duty bound to mention it.
Otherwise, LOWLIFE is a film to watch. It’s brazen and smart. It trusts its audience to follow along but doesn’t ever coddle. It’s a new take on an old formula. What else can I say to make you go watch this movie? Horror fans should rejoice, we have our PULP FICTION.