The people call him a hero – El Monstruo, masked avenger, son of El Monstruo, renowned defender, and proud luchador. The legend of his legacy extends back for centuries. They say if you pray to him, he will come and save you, take you away from despair, out of darkness and into the light. Little do they know, the darkness has festered within his soul, and he no longer saves people from ghastly dungeons – he locks them inside. This luchador has lost his path to glory, but when fate brings the timelines of monsters, fiends, thugs, and criminals together in one colossal explosion of coincidence, El Monstruo and everyone he comes into contact with will witness the true meaning of second chances, and each person involved will experience their own day in the sun, in a country that would rather see all of these immigrants left quiet in the dark.
Hard, brutal, and bright – that’s the America we’re all living in, and these intricate characters of color are no strangers to it. Crystal, a recovering addict and owner of a struggling local motel, has no choice but to turn to the black market when seeking a kidney donor to replace her husband’s failing organ. She simply can’t afford to lose her lover, but she can’t afford to go the legal route, either. That’s why when her chips are down and the times are tough, she turns to Teddy, a notorious underground gangster who runs a taco shop as a front, with a bunch of stolen immigrant innards hiding out in the basement below. She knows her source is shady, but Crystal literally has no one else to turn to – she’ll do whatever it takes to save the man she loves, even if it means taking a body part from a pregnant woman.
What Crystal doesn’t know is that this woman’s name is Kaylee, and she’s carrying the legacy of El Monstruo inside of her. Kaylee is currently suffering from a heroin addiction, despite El Monstruo’s best efforts to wean her off of the disgusting habit – but who could blame her? After all, she comes from Teddy’s basement. That’s where El Monstruo found her. She was just another one of the sad and scared little girls Teddy pimps out to the highest bidder, until El Monstruo liberated her from the clutches of sex slavery, only for him to then become one of Teddy’s lap dogs, keeping guard outside of the stolen girls’ rooms, making sure they say shut in instead of setting them free. He is no hero, and this is not the land of opportunity. This is the land of profit, of evil white men, and their victims who wear invisible chains as indentured servants with no expiration dates for their service.
Even Keith, the man who became an accountant and got out of the games ages ago when his buddy Randy took the fall for his crimes, finds himself back in the clutches of illegal activity when he’s called upon to complete one last mission for old times’ sake. Keith is so clean now that he’s got a baby seat in the back of his car, but that doesn’t mean that he’s done being a mule for this wicked life. The streets are calling his name, and he must answer, because the truth is that he’s been a victim of circumstance ever since the day he was born, and a shiny new set of wheels and fancy office and children who deserve a good father aren’t going to change the color of his skin, or how his country treats him. He sold his soul long ago just to survive, and the payment for such a high price is the rest of his life.
Lowlife is quite possibly the best film out of Fantasia Fest 2017. Gripping, calculated, and air tight from start to finish, this Pulp Fiction-esque style of storytelling where the timeline is told out of order is so self-assured and well thought out that it puts newcomer Ryan Prows on the map as a director that we should all be following. Prows has truly hit the ground running with this fantastic little gem about what it’s like to be an immigrant or lower class citizen in America, and it’s a lesson that both hit hard and feels relatable on multiple levels for anyone who has struggled to make ends meet in a maddening capitalist world. Prows manages to not only create a commentary on the current state of affairs for the working man in the States but also provide appropriately well-timed comedic beats while he does it, making this movie as entertaining as it is eye-opening. Lowlife is a hugely impactful directorial debut, and this writer will be waiting with bated breath to see Prows’ sophomore project. Until then, I’ll just keep singing the praises of this invigorating splash onto the scene, for it really is something that anyone who prides themselves on being a cinema lover should see. Lowlife is the realest deal, and Ryan Prows is one hell of an up-and-comer.