Sometimes, when you watch a film, you are immediately drawn into the characters’ world and want to know what happens next. Other times, you are disturbed by the opening scenes of a movie and want to exit quickly. It’s very rare that a film garners both reactions from the same viewer. That’s what makes Lowlife (playing tonight at Toronto After Dark 2017 at 7PM) a rare specimen.
Directed by Ryan Prows, Lowlife is staged around an organ harvesting caper gone wrong. Inspired by crime films of the 90s, the movie introduces a number of different characters that seemingly have no connection to each other. A disgraced luchador wrestler who now works as hired muscle. A woman who runs a motel looking for an kidney for her dying husband. A shifty accountant who’s in over his head on an embezzling scheme. An ex-con who wants a second chance at life. The one person that ties them all together is a hack crime boss by the name of Teddy “Bear” Haynes. This man plans to ruin all their lives for his own gain.
The start of the film is filled with a number of uncomfortable moments and imagery. This is to properly set up the type of guy Teddy Bear is. While there is a reason for these moments, it does not take away from the level of disturbing tension the viewer may experience. As we are introduced to more of the colourful characters in the film, that tension dissipates and gives way to intrigue on how this rag tag group comes together. There’s no stronger bond than a common enemy and that is certainly the case here. As we get to the final act, we’re rooting for these somewhat terrible individuals as heroes in hopes that they will take down the big bad Teddy Bear. It’s a testament to the lesser of evils becoming a suitable protagonist.
The style of the film feels very much inspired by the 90s work of Quentin Tarrantino. Using similar devices and editing tricks to Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, Prows pays a subtle homage to these movies. Tarrantino stole these tricks from classic and neo-noir films, so it’s nice to see this style continue to be presented in current cinema. The narrative jumps back and forth, replaying moments from previous scenes from a different perspective. This choice really lets the actors play within these moments and create captivating performances.
When it comes to this ensemble cast, there are two performers that stand out above the rest. Jon Oswald plays Randy, an ex-con who slowly but surely finds a path to redemption. For a character whose face tattoo is a hate crime, he’s the sweetest character of the bunch. It’s obvious that Randy has a heart of gold and is just looking for a purpose in life. He finds this purpose in a way that one might not expect. Oswald takes a character that comes off as annoying on paper and breaths charm and optimism into this film with a fantastic performance.
Nicki Micheaux is also very genuine as Crystal, the female lead of the piece. She too is looking for redemption for the mistakes she made with her daughter. In a film littered with outrageous characters, she’s does a great job of grounding the piece in reality with her portrayal.
If you’re looking for a crime movie that pulls no punches and harkens back to 90s indie noir, Lowlife is the film for you. It’s a little tough to get through at first but ends up being a fun morality play where good and evil are shown through many shades of gray. The film screens tonight (October 19th) at 7PM. Tickets are available at the Cineplex Website.
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