Movie Review: A Youtube Pedo Punker Gets Carried Away — “Low Life”

Here’s a creepy indie snapshot of America at this moment — performative, attention-grabbing, impulsive and child-exploitation obsessed.

“Low Life” is a jittery, nerve-wracking thriller, a peek behind the “gotcha” cell phone camera of a confrontational stalker-of-stalkers. It’s also a commentary of the golden age of “projection,” a picture that asks what some of the people who are so obsessed with this subject — the quickest to scream “PEDOPHILE” at others — might have on their Internet search history.

Director Tyler Michael James and screenwriters Hunter Milano and Noah Rotter take us into the life of a Youtube exposer of pedophiles, an amped-up catfisher-for-“justice” who goes by Creep Dunk.

And even as it sometimes lapses into melodrama and goes off the deep end, it’s a seriously unsettling ride.

Benny Jansen, given Big Fanatic Energy by Wes Dunlap — is scoring page-view fame and getting the attention of the local PD in his corner of suburban Nevada. As Creep Dunk, he takes tips from fans and sets out to entrap men into approaching underage girls on the Internet. He walks viewers through the icky online conversations — the genital photos — and then videos the moment he meets and confronts these pervs.

Benny is brazen and unafraid. Benny is also a drama queen, primping and rehearsing his bits, lapsing into his best Travis Bickle tough-guy-who-might-be-psycho speech to get his game face on. He’s deep down the Holden Caulfield rabbit hole, “saving” girls from “predators,” a catcher in the wi-fi.

He self-righteously claps-back at a TV reporter who ambushes the ambusher, expressing “the sheriff’s” concerns about the “vigilante” illegality of what he’s doing.

But things chance when we see him light into the subject of an “investigation,” only to have the guy “make” him — “We went to high school together. You’re Benny Jansen, aren’t you?”

As Benny freaks out at this exposing of the exposer, he web searches for gun shops and buys “protection.” But a peek inside Benny’s life tells us why he never took that step before now.

A trip back to his old high school summons up formative memories. He used to be the star basketball player, used to be the biggest guy on the court. Benny used to be a bully. It’s not like he changed all that much.

But he has this equally-obsessed teen fan-girl (Lucy Urbano) passing on tips and siccing him on a friend’s “creeper” dad. She’s even more impulsive, less mature and less filtered. Benny’s desperate to please her, or at least not let “the fans” down.

“Low Life” takes us through Benny’s dark night of the soul, full of revelations, confrontations, violence and ugly self-discovery as he sucks a couple of old pals (Hunter Milano and Jake Dvorsky) into his obsession and his world.

James’s debut feature has its “Oh, come on” moments. But even with the occasional far-fetched turn, it’s always a bracing film, skating by on Dunlap’s nervous energy and Urbano’s heedless, never-consider-consequences high school kid.

“Low Life” is edited to the beat of a pulsating synthesizer score by Zach Michel — quick cuts, extreme close-ups, “glasses camera” shots and cell-phone video and snaps. The point-of-view wanders, like a “found footage” venture that abandons that weary conceit early on.

But they’re onto something here, a story very much of its moment. “Low Life” taps into the ugly, child-abusing zeitgeist. It toys with the “cops haven’t figured out which side they’re on” paranoia, and insane “Pizzagate” endgame of crazed vigilantism.

It’s never shy about turning the camera around on the self-righteous and suggesting “Let he who is without a sketchy side cast the first stone.”

Rating: unrated, graphic violence, pedophilia subject, profanity

Cast: Wes Dunlap, Lucas Neff, Lucy Urbano, Hunter Milano and Jake Dvorsky

Credits: Directed by Tyler Michael James, scripted by Hunter Milano and Noah Rotter. An XYZ release.

Running time: 1:44

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.