drama

Lowlife

lowlife

El Munstro is the latest in a long and proud line of famed luchadors. While El Munstro had always been a symbol of hope for the Mexican people, this El Munstro works for his thug father-in-law named Teddy who meddles in underage prostitution and organ harvesting. Crystal is a recovering addict. She struggles with running her motel while also trying to keep her alcoholic husband alive, with Teddy’s help. Keith is Teddy’s accountant who picks up his best friend, Randy, from jail. Except Randy walks out of the prison doors with a giant swastika covering his face. These people don’t have much in common, but their worlds are about to collide.

This is director Ryan Prows’ first feature film, which he cowrote. The film was also written by Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, and Maxwell Michael Towson (Towson being the only one to have written a feature length film before). Lowlife is broken into different sections, allowing you to get to know each of the main characters. The segments are titles “Monsters,” “Fiends,” and “Thugs.” People will immediately be reminded of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, mostly due to the way the film is broken into separate subplots that all intertwine. While that connection is justifiable, Lowlife seems to take that concept and perfect it. The individual stories for each character feel complete, and with each segment more and more is revealed. The filmmakers designed it so the audience can understand more about what is happening with each segment, while also showing what is happening from different points of view. When the different subplots finally come together, it makes the climax of the film all the more intense and enthralling.

What pushes this film beyond being a typical suspenseful (sometimes comedic) drama with a bunch of unsavory characters is how much heart this film has. For the most part, all of the characters are truly horrible people. Yet, somehow, the filmmakers still make you care about what happens to them. The character arcs also show some interesting changes and growth from beginning to end that isn’t normally seen from these types of characters. There are also so many layers, not only to the plot but also to each character, that show no one is perfect. Each individual just tries to live their life the best they know how to.

The multidimensional characters would not have been as fascinating without the work of some fantastic actors. Ricardo Adam Zarate (Deadly Films) makes his feature film debut as El Munstro. This character speaks entirely in Spanish and is never seen without his luchador mask on. Zarate perfectly portrays how El Munstro straddles the line of being the noble fighter he believes he is, and the somewhat unstable madman he truly is. The way Zarate is able to emote through the luchador mask is also outstanding. Nicki Micheaux (The Shield, Animal Kingdom) shines as motel owner Crystal. Micheaux’s performance stands out because she brings the most heart and emotion of all the characters. It is impossible to watch her performance and not feel a strong sense of empathy for Crystal. Jon Oswald (Mata Hari, Boomerang Kids) plays the now ex-convict Randy. As soon as Randy appears on the screen with a swastika on his face, audiences will expect to hate him. Surprisingly, the writing combined with Oswald’s performance make Randy the most enjoyable character. He is funny without trying to be, and he is probably the only one of the characters who could be considered a wholly good person, despite what his appearance would suggest. Finally, there is the character Teddy, played by Mark Burnham (Wrong Cops, Hidden in the Woods). Burnham’s look in the film at first seems over-the-top, but his performance of the despicable and soulless Teddy brings all the flash and color back to earth. All of these actors, as well as one not mentioned here, will make you remember this film.

This is not a horror film, yet I am still writing this review for it. It may defy being placed in any one genre, but I would say it is mostly a thrilling crime drama with comedic elements. After watching this film at the International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, it was clear to me that I couldn’t see it without spreading the word about it. Lowlife gives a riveting snapshot into a world filled with criminals, yet it chooses to focus on the good within that deranged world. It weaves through multiple different plot lines, then sews them together seamlessly by the end of the film. The entire cast is outstanding, the writing is phenomenal, and it is incredibly well directed. If the fact that I wrote a review for this film on my horror site doesn’t make it explicit enough, let me make it more clear: go see this film.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

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Rock Steady Row

rocksteady

In the not so distant future, college campuses become survival of the fittest. Two warring fraternities have taken over Rock Steady University campus leaving the rest of the student body to fend for themselves. On his first day of college, Leroy’s bike is stolen by one of the fraternities. Leroy attempts to get his bike back leading to fights, conspiracies, and a very strange freshman year.

This film is very difficult to fit into a specific genre. There are both dramatic and comedic elements, and at times there is action. An argument could be made that it is post-apocalyptic, and the film even feels like watching a video game in certain scenes. The film is definitely a hodge-podge of many different genres all rolled into one, and that is part of its charm. This is the first feature film directed by Trevor Stevens and written by Bomani Story. The pair took a simple concept, a freshman’s bike being stolen on campus, and turned it into an epic tale. While the universe created in the film is an extreme caricature of the real world, it is still something relatable and accessible to any viewer who spent time going to college. The plot simultaneously makes fun of fraternities, points out the capitalist habits of many universities, and shows that it often takes more than just intelligence to get a higher education.

The cast features many caricatures of people you likely encountered in college. Heston Horwin (Run, Speechless) plays freshman Leroy. In a way he is a typical college freshman, completely self absorbed and only concerned with himself and his bike. As his arc progresses, Horwin brings more heart to the character. Leroy goes through some fairly elaborate schemes to get his bike back, and watching Horwin portray this character through all his trials and tribulations is quite entertaining. Two of the most fun characters to watch throughout the film are the two fraternity leaders, Andrew Palmer and Augustus Washington III. Andrew is played by Logan Huffman (Final Girl, Lymelife). Huffman plays the caricature of the ultimate bro frat boy who thinks he can get whatever, and whoever he wants.  He is everything a person could hate in a frat boy, and Huffman plays Andrew so well he will make you laugh while your skin is crawling. Augustus is played by Isaac Alisma (Ready Set Blahe, The Arabian Warrior). Augustus is a different type of frat boy. He is the leader of the intelligent, borderline geeky, but still hip and cool frat. Alisma does a great job of making it unclear who Augustus is loyal too, although it is no secret that his own fraternity is always number one. Diamond White (Boo! A Madea Halloween, F*&% the Prom) plays Piper. We all know that person on college campus who is the perpetual activist, trying to expose the truth and make the campus a better place. Piper is that person in Rock Steady Row. White portrays Piper in a way that makes her straddle the edge of being too perfect, but she is still the most grounded and heart-filled character of the bunch. All of these actors and characters work well together on camera, making for scenes that run the gambit of emotions for the audience.

Of all the films I saw at the International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, this was probably the one with the most unique visuals. The film start with a fun animated back story, allowing the audience to get to know this somewhat futuristic world they are about to witness. From there the film focuses on a lot of really fascinating uses of color and light. Most of the color pallet is desolate beiges, greys, and other muted colors. Only the frat brothers wear bright colors; red for Andrew and his frat brothers, blue for Augustus and his frat brothers. When Leroy is traveling back and forth, trying to find a way to get his beloved bike back, the “travel” is shown by backlighting Leroy on a sound stage so all you see is his silhouette and whatever color is being projected in the lights. These scenes are where audiences will really get a sense of the video game and comic book style of the film. The film is really stunning to watch and  feels somewhat reminiscent of films like Turbo Kid and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but with its own unique flare.

Rock Steady Row is a film that defies definition, as well as expectations. Its a genre bending tale that will surely become a cult classic, especially with the unique imagery and storytelling style. The fact that there are so many different genres thrown into this melting pot can be a bit overwhelming, especially since there are so many different styles going on throughout the film. This means the film won’t be for everyone, but it is hard to deny how much fun this film is. It is sure to win the hearts of many cinephiles because of its unique content and style.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10