“Hello baby! How are you doing?” That is how Benny (Wes Dunlap) opens his YouTube videos. His popular channel, known as “Creep Dunk” exposes pedophiles as the creeps they are, with Benny creating the bait, securing the damning info in chats, and then recording the interactions when he finally reveals who he is when the criminals are expecting to meet their underage targets. Benny’s vigilante actions have resulted in some arrests, but just as many have not come to justice because every interaction is not as cut and dry as he edits it to be.
Still, he believes he is doing the right thing, and he is trying to bring down a local teacher, Jason (Lucas Neff) of whom he has been going back and forth with for months with the unwanted yet occasionally useful help of teenager Nicole (Lucy Urbano), who is quite the big fan of Benny and who has a tie to Jason. Unpredictably, an opportunity comes out of nowhere to nab Jason, but it involves letting him into Benny’s home with his friends in the family man Sam (Jake Dvorsky) and the recently released from jail, Ryan (Hunter Milano). While Benny has an improvised plan, nothing can prepare him for what is about to go down over the course of one night.
There are small movies that are released without much fanfare or awareness, and then there are small movies that are released with no fanfare or awareness. It’s always awesome when one of these movies surprises the relative hell out of you, and not only because of subject matter. Distributor XYZ Films has that on their hands with the small Low Life.
Low Life serves as the directing debut for Tyler Michael James, a production person who has predominantly made his name adding visual effects to popular TV series like Westworld, Gotham, and The Walking Dead. Whether a large or lean budget, quality tends to transfer and in Low Life, one can see what James is going for, particularly in the final act where the narrative’s events surge and converge together in an anxiety-ridden way somewhat reminiscent of The Safdie Brothers’ works, down to the cross-cutting. Credit to the new feature director; whether it is simply just being in lockstep with his writing team or knowing the finite time his narrative has once the proverbial s**t hits the fan, he milks the tension and lets it simmer for a good while (the poker scene maybe runs a bit too lengthy) before the movie turns to a fiery quick pace.
Low Life’s story is composed—shockingly, of a cast of characters who are essentially low lifes. Expect a lot of expletives. For a lot of viewers, the fact that save for supporting character Sam, that there isn’t that one person to latch onto in this ickiness will make for a difficult viewing. Written by Milano who appears as one of Benny’s friends and Noah Rotter, their takedowns are squarely put on the power and influence one’s social media can grant them over a group, the ineptitude of law enforcement (seemingly intentionally, not one officer is shown in the film), how vigilantism spawns out of response to waning enforcement, and the nature of vigilantism itself. Particularly, is vigilantism as noble and well-intentioned as the vigilante leads people to believe? The latter question is never explicitly answered, but Milano and Rotter certainly take a cynical stance in their analysis. Their ending they choose to go with is satisfactory; however, this is a story that needed a more cut-and-dry resolution.
A cast of mostly unknowns comprises Low Life. Neff is the most well-known, and his meticulous cat-and-mouse game with Dunlap drives much of the feature. This could be a breakout role for Dunlap. At times, what he is doing comes off as a little too amped up, but more times than not he’s playing well within the written confines of his character’s personality which happens to be a hot-tempered, validation-seeking, God-complexed egoist wrapped in a proclaimed guise of altruism. He has a hefty presence, and it is quite surprising how comfortable he is as the central point of his first full-length movie. I would have loved to see a better and believable bond between he and Milano/Dvorsky. Sadly, the movie does little to convince an audience why these three would be friends. All in all, a minor flaw.
Low Life isn’t going to be for all viewers. But for those who have the intestines to stomach through moral muck, they’ll find a hidden, small-scale gem. Low Life is available to rent currently on VOD as of this writing.
Photo credits are courtesy of XYZ Films.
For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com.
Feel free to follow me @MrJackMarkSon