Review by Cole Groth
After the moderately successful release of 2016's Nerve, social media-based thrillers seem to be here to stay, and films like Joe Keery's Spree or this year's Low Life serve to boost this sub-genre with continually decent films. Low Life isn't amazing, but it's slick enough to stand out as a more competent thriller. With a unique premise, strong pacing, and good music, the only thing stopping this film from rising to the top is a weak climax and an overall lame payoff.
Tackling the recent craze of internet vigilantes who hunt down pedophiles, like low-budget Chris Hansen clones, Low Life follows Benny Jansen, a small-scale YouTuber who uses his charm to entrap would-be predators. Played by Wes Dunlap, Benny is a good example of a cocky high schooler written correctly. His arrogance gets the best of him, and the jocky energy infused with the obnoxious YouTuber vibe he gives off makes him an extraordinarily interesting character. After tracking down one of his most aggressive predators yet, Benny finds himself way over his head, leading everything awry in one insane night with deadly consequences. This premise works very well until things get out of hand. From there, it seems like writers Hunter Milano and Noah Rotter couldn't agree on anything, leaving an already confusing story to spiral out of control.
The first hour of this film is very different from its last 46 minutes. While the first act serves as a good commentary on vigilante justice and the current state of social media, the last two are sloppy, poorly-written, and aggressively paced. After a twenty-minute dialogue sequence in the middle, the film goes from simply tense to over-the-top and ridiculous. Violent twists and turns are too ambitious to keep this grounded in reality, and that's where the film works the most. As the tensions grow, Benny becomes a cartoonish villain and a complete shell of who he first represented, which will surely leave audiences struggling to find out where it all went wrong. People just do not act like this in real life. It's frustrating to watch people go crazy for internet fame, especially when it isn't well-written enough to justify it. Movies like these run into these sorts of problems. Young writers want to create slick thrillers to represent their generation's problems, but it just doesn't work when they turn to violence to solve their problems. This film, in particular, struggles with cringeworthy dialogue, and it only gets worse over time.
One of the definite highlights of this film is how it presents itself in terms of social media. In a sea of bad YouTube clones and lame parodies, this one does a solid job of recreating what actual internet content looks like. Benny is a believable protagonist at first, and how he looks at the world comes from a genuine place of delusion. Flawed protagonists make for satisfying endings, so it's only more baffling when the last ten minutes throw all character development out the window in an attempt to one-up itself constantly. Without going into particular plot details, it's hard to describe what's wrong with this movie because most of its flaws come from the story. The acting is mostly sub-par, but beyond that, it's competent from a production standpoint. Just like Spree, you can expect a fatally flawed journey in Low Life, but if you're a fan of neo-thrillers, you might find a new perspective.
Low Life will premiere on VOD starting August 25th.