With a pulpy, non-linear approach to his narrative, co-writer/director Ryan Prows weaves a felonious web with Lowlife, his pitch-black crime comedy that brings together an eclectic crop of characters for an unexpected ride through the sun-drenched streets of Los Angeles through the course of one day. While the film may garner a few Quentin Tarantino comparisons, rest assured that Lowlife confidently marches to the beat of its own unique drum, making this debut feature from Prows one of the most surprising films I’ve seen so far this year.

Lowlife is centered on a rage-fueled Luchador named El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate), who feels inadequate living in the shadow of his family’s legacy. His penchant for pain makes him the perfect muscle to work for the depraved mob boss Teddy Haynes (Mark Burnham), who dabbles in a bit of everything, from drugs to organ harvesting to sex trafficking. The masked enforcer is also married to Teddy’s adopted daughter, Kaylee (Santana Dempsey), who also happens to be one of his former sex slaves, and El Monstruo is excitedly awaiting the arrival of his first son to complete his new family.

There’s also a motel owner (Nicki Micheaux) looking to buy a kidney for her ailing husband, her desperation driving her to utilize Teddy’s less-than-ethical services, as well as a pair of bumbling criminal types who are forced to do Teddy’s bidding: Randy (Jon Oswald), the recently paroled convict with an unfortunate facial tattoo, and his pal Keith (Shaye Ogbonna), who married Randy’s ex-girlfriend while his buddy was locked up. It’s Teddy’s savage misdeeds that bring them all together one fateful day, forever changing their lives in inexplicable ways.

Equal parts absurdist comedy, crime caper, domestic drama, and a timely exploration of numerous sociopolitical issues at the forefront of the world today (immigration, drug dependency, and the horrendous state of health care—to name a few), Lowlife is an intricately crafted exercise that not only demands your attention, but also walks the fine line between genius and madness perfectly. Sectioned off into sequences titled after various criminal types (“Monsters” and “Thugs” being two prime examples), Lowlife explores its story from the various viewpoints of its characters, allowing us to dig into all the details and connective tissue that make up the ambitious script penned by five different writers (collectively known as Tomm Fondle), while still avoiding the typical pratfalls that often beleaguer a project featuring a copious amount of writers attached.

Although at first it may seem like Lowlife is unfocused and drifts from its main narrative too much, it’s right around the final segment when all the tumblers begin to fall into place, and Prows succeeds in bringing all the strands of his ambitious tale together in a truly satisfying fashion. It’s no easy feat to drift between the various tonal shifts that Lowlife undergoes throughout its entire running time, but somehow the co-writer/director makes it look easy, as moments of sheer horror and depravity are just as impactful as some of the film’s comedic notes, allowing viewers a brief respite from his grimy underworld. Prows has an unflinching gaze when it comes to reveling in Lowlife’s moments of startling ultra-violence, catapulting the whole affair right into pure midnight movie madness.

Make no mistake, Lowlife has all the earmarks of a true cult classic in the making, and I do think it’s a film that will not only be buzzed about for some time, but will also reap great rewards upon repeated viewings. With his feature-length directorial debut, Prows firmly establishes himself as a ferocious filmmaking talent on the rise, and I cannot wait to see what kind of cinematic madness he comes up with next.

Movie Score: 4/5

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.