Film Review: Low Life
Director: Tyler Michael James
On Demand 08.25
Content Warning: Pedophilia
It can be challenging for smaller-budget films to take control of their own visual narrative and successfully tell grandiose stories. Horror works well on a smaller budget because even a good B horror picture can have major lasting impacts on an audience.
Low Life, directed by newcomer Tyler Michael James, is a low-budget horror flick from XYZ Films. It follows a young YouTuber named Benny, played by Wes Dunlap, who exhibits extreme toxic masculinity and narcissism while rising to fame via his online “To Catch a Predator” ripoff show. Benny’s sense of self inflates as he garners the attention of local politicians and news stations, increasing his status but also putting his ego in serious danger of imploding from the waves of harsh criticism.
With police pressure mounting and his biggest, 16-year-old fan, Nicole (Lucy Urbano) begging for his help, Benny reaches a tipping point. What ensues is a wild night for Benny, his two best friends Ryan (Hunter Milano) and Sam (Jake Dvorsky), Nicole and her best friend’s pedophilic father, Jason (Lucas Neff).
Right away you can tell the film has a lot that it wants to say about the dangers of pedophilia, the disassociation of angry young males in today’s society, the importance about the media we consume and other heavy themes that the film never really follows through with. Rather, it throws the spotlight on some of these subjects with such a heavy hand that you’re often left wondering, whose side is the film on?
It’s hard not to be disgusted with the character’s actions throughout the film, and I often felt gross watching these scenes unfurl. Wes Dunlap expertly portrays an uncontrollable and increasingly disillusioned young man, who perpetuates the cycle of abuse that he himself has experienced. I felt queasier with every minute he was on screen, making it difficult to sympathize with him and even harder to sympathize with the characters that he’s manipulating.
Following the motivations of the supporting characters in the film is a challenge, and I’m often left wondering, “Why are you doing this?” And not in a fun, “Don’t go into the basement alone, dummy!” way. Horror movies should play on your survival instincts, making you fear for the safety of the people on screen. I couldn’t bring myself to care about what happened to the parade of terrible characters in Low Life. They either made my skin crawl or just felt like empty shells going along with plot for plot’s sake.
The shaky cam cinematography adds to the uneasiness, creating a claustrophobic feel that became boring after a while. That, combined with dull pacing, made the film feel like it dragged on forever, and that killed all the building tension.
Low Life fell short of its lofty aspirations. It was too heavy for a horror movie and too cheesy to be a drama. If you’re looking for a film that successfully manages to put you on the edge of your seat and discuss difficult societal issues, all while poking fun at Gen Z culture, I would check out my colleague Birdy Francis’ review of Bodies, Bodies, Bodies here. –Morgan Keller