Rating: 4 outta 5!
“Well, holy shit- that was something” - my reaction after sitting through this obviously inspired BUT done well Quentin Taratino-eque flick I just happened upon - a VERY happy accident that led me to this very satisfying gun-toting, dark humor crime fiasco of a movie. Holy. Shit.
“Lowlife” is a pitch black comedy that starts off with a bang. Or rather, several bangs. The movie starts with a lone ICE agent, busting illegals in the shadiest looking of motels. That ICE agent is a very crooked agent- and the rest of the intro shows you just how much as he leads his captives down an underground hallway to his boss, Teddy "Bear" Haynes (played by Mark Burnham). From here, the dastardly duo begin to separate and “process” the illegals- cries and gun shots heard in the background- the scene ending with an elderly immigrant being shot in the head- and cue the black card movie title, “Lowlife” flashing in white letters.
At this point, you’re wondering, “...what the hell have I gotten myself into” - as some melancholy music plays over a scene where Teddy is slowing pulling out the organs of the just-shot elderly immigrant- and neatly putting them into boxes, readying them for the black market - it’s almost as if this first act goes, “My name is Lowlife. Here’s just how dirty I can get!” - okay, okay, we got you! We give!
From this starkly dark intro, the movie lightens up a bit in its introduction of its key players. We’re first introduced to “El Monstruo”, a downtrodden, WWE-style talkin’ luchador who ashamedly works for our main villain Teddy- his “chapter” (the movie, Tarantino-style, is separated into different chapters with the rest of the cast taking lead per segment) starts with him telling his backstory to a young girl (at her quincenera) as he waits impatiently for her father, who owes Teddy some money. El Monstruo’s speeches about luchadors and the “Monstruo Legacy” ring very true to the luchadors and wrestlers of tv fame- and, as a former huge fan of wrestling entertainment, I found myself already siding with this cartoon of a character- the scene reaches its climax as El Monstruo is forced to confront the girl’s dad- and this to me, was one of *the* best moment, in a movie fulla moments, because of the technique done to visually/audibly demonstrate Monstruo’s “rage”. The camera shows an enraged Monstruo yelling (not audible; instead, a “tonal ringing sound” is played; similar to the causal ringin sound in the ear after experiencing loud sound), and then the screen promptly fades to black. We come back to the aftermath, Monstruo regaining consciousness as he lies on the grass...quincenera decorations strewn all over...the girl’s father, dead, head beaten in with a propane tank.
This “fight sequence”, for me, was one of the most clever directing choices I’ve seen in anything for awhile. And we get to see it, sparingly so (just the right amount), throughout the flick. There’s something wonderful about constraint and mystery- and in a very bloody, gritty crime movie, no one’s expecting either to last, if they exist at all.
Every character introduced after El Monstruo’s chapter is unexpectedly even more engaging than the last- the last of which is the surprisingly-endearing Randy, a “thug talkin’” caucasian just released out of prison- with a giant swastika tattooed literally over his whole face. For what I’d consider very obvious, it should not be anyone’s expectations to actually like this character- and lo and behold, he becomes one of the most lovable, and most memorable (because of the performance and NOT the tattoo) characters in the entire movie-
The movie’s main plot takes us through a whole bunch of grime, violence and drugs- but through its variety of character personalities and sharp writing, we’re carried through to an ending with surprising shades of familiarity and empathy. The wanting/needing to be with one’s parents...and a parent’s love for their child (the mother/motel owner brilliantly played by Nicki Micheaux), ties this entire movie together in a neat, blood-stained bow. “Lowlife” was a “theater experience” of which I was very happy to have found out about and seen.
I would compare the movie experience to the climatic transition of being high on adrenaline and fast food grease, speeding on a dark & narrow winding road, radio blazing some Foghat - to suddenly taking it slower (after finishing that big ol’ cheeseburger), cruising with the windows down, driving into the sunrise to that cheap cigarette-smelling Motel 6 you’re staying at while you visit that friend of yours you haven’t seen in a few years.