Small-time crime boss Teddy (Mark Burnham) runs a organ-harvesting business and a sex-slave ring out of the basement of his fast food restaurant. His muscle is a luchador named El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate), who has failed to live up to the folk hero legacy of his forefathers. The luchador and his wife Kaylee (Santana Dempsey) are expecting a child they hope to raise away from corruption and evil that touches everyone in Teddy’s orbit. Crystal (Nicki Micheaux) manages the hotel where Teddy abducts most of his victims, all of whom are illegal immigrants who won’t be missed. Crystal keeps her head down most of the time, condoning the heinous crimes because she desperately needs a kidney for her husband. And then there’s Randy (Jon Oswald), newly released from prison with a huge swastika tattooed on his face, who lacks the self-awareness to know how off-putting that may be. These folks are monsters, fiends, thugs, and, of course, lowlifes.
Director Ryan Prows offers up an impressive feature film debut with Lowlife. Presented in a series of overlapping vignettes, the film possesses a freewheeling lunacy that completely won me over in ways I didn’t expect. It’s over the top with violence that oscillates wildly from graphic to ridiculous, but it doesn’t lose sight of the characters, who remarkably never feel like caricatures. (Save for Teddy, who is justifiably a slimy, scene-chewing villain who grounds the film in its exploitation roots as portrayed by Mark Burnham like Stacy Keach on an acid trip.) It would be all too easy to make someone like Randy and his tattoo into a joke that goes on too long, but Prows and the film’s writers actually supply him with an arc that surprisingly works.
The film’s mayhem keeps building as a kidnapping plot brings all the larger-than-life characters together in a bloody finale that delight weirdos and genre lovers. Lowlife delivers as pure, fun entertainment that left me ready to cheer and eager to return to this peculiar world again in the future.
Lowlife is in theaters now from IFC Films.