LASSO Review: Grabbing Bullshit By The Horns

Not a great movie, but a movie with REALLY good “good bits.”

Low-budget horror movies thrive on ideas. Production value costs money, and imagination costs nothing, so the best cheap horrors tend to be those with either a whip-smart premise, or enough distinguishing "moments" to fill a feature runtime. Lasso is one thousand percent in the latter category: it’s a phenomenally stupid movie, but a machine-gun blast of ridiculous scenes that, for all its failings, delivers a pretty enjoyable ninety minutes. After all, how could a movie about a busload of “active seniors” being menaced by murderous rodeo staff be anything other than perversely entertaining?

There aren’t that many likeable characters in this movie, and that feels almost by design. Writer Roberto Marinas and director Evan Cecil appear to hate their characters, from the protagonists on down. This film hates millennials, consumed with modern society to the point of making them useless in a survival situation. It hates its senior citizens, portrayed patronisingly as either clueless or self-consciously “hip”. It hates weak cityfolk and hick countryfolk. It hates animal rights activists. And I have no idea what its attitude is toward its black trans/non-binary character, who gets some of the film’s best moments but who’s introduced with a character wondering if they’re “a dude". Most of all, though, it hates Simon, the quiffed and faded main character, who’s dumb and unlikeable to the point where you actually pity the guy.

Simon works as a minder for senior citizens, and clearly hates it. He especially hates taking them to the Hackett Rodeo, where from the start he’s mocked by the bigger, stronger rodeo hands. But things turn from uncomfortable to deadly when, as they’re about to leave, Simon and his crew are attacked by the rodeo’s staff. Simon gets captured; the bus gets run off the road; shit, generally speaking, goes down.

Attempting to parse exactly how Hackett’s murderous operation works is utter folly. Apparently, these guys’ M.O. is to capture, torture, and kill not only audience members, but also the performers in their own rodeo. The horror they visit upon their victims - all of it rodeo-related, using bullhorns and whips and cattle prods and brands and yes, lassos - is so comprehensive that it’s amazing they keep doing this and getting away with it. Their hunting ground is in their wide-open rodeo arena, not hidden away in a basement - and how do they maintain a business if they kill all their stars? Do I even care whether it makes sense? The no.

Did I also mention that everyone running this rodeo is doping themselves up with motherfucking horse steroids? It’s dumb and implausible and I love it.

While the film mostly follows the younger cast members (with one notable exception, which we’ll discuss), most of the victims are senior citizens - a wrong-headed idea that sadly isn't as amusing as it sounds. Many death sequences are photographed and edited to avoid showing money-shots that, as the term suggests, were likely out of Lasso’s budget league. There are still some eyebrow-raisingly outrageous kill ideas, though, including the use of a dog as a hand puppet to lure in a victim, and a sequence where a cowboy henchman lassos a little old lady and swings her around his head repeatedly before smacking her into a tree. Completely stupid, and I love it.

Lasso’s secret weapon, and the number one thing it’s guaranteed to be remembered for, is Sean Patrick Flanery’s bronc-rider character. He starts the movie with one arm (the explanation for which is somehow both anticlimactic and faux-inspirational), but does he finish it with one arm? Of course not; his remaining arm is severed early on in the film, and our guy just keeps on trucking through ever-greater injuries. Flanery stumbling around and fighting back against his captors with no arms (or rather, with his arms tucked into his costume) is by far the most entertaining material in the movie, and if anything it’s a shame there isn't more. His final heroic fight scene takes place offscreen, and it’s unclear whether that was for budget/scheduling reasons, or simply because it’d be near-impossible to choreograph such a scene without it crossing the line into pure farce. If the latter: shoulda crossed that line.

Sadly, Lasso’s low budget hurts it more than a little bit. The editing bears hallmarks of cutting around mistakes and masking missing coverage with cutaways, including the use of looped dialogue to clarify a very unclear movie. The uninspiring, drone-driven score is made worse by a constant use of jump scare stings. Camera coverage ranges from functional to bizarre, with several too many canted angles and a lot of weirdly lopsided framing. There’s also a scene where a character complains repeatedly about light being in her face, when zero light is being shone at her face. This isn't "funny" bad production value; it’s just a classic example of a low budget and rushed shooting schedule. If the kills, in particular, delivered execution(s) that matched their concepts, this'd be an all-timer.

Lasso isn’t a singular, artistically-pure work of weirdness like The Evil Within or The Room. It’s a direct-to-video horror film through and through. But it’s also a nonstop ride of inspired, weird-ass moments. This is a movie made up almost entirely of “good bits,” and Cecil apparently knows it, closing the film with a montage of all the deaths, just so you don’t forget them.

That closing montage also includes a slow-motion sequence involving two characters we've never seen before, and a freeze-frame on a character who’s barely in the movie and whose motivations are completely inscrutable. It’s that kind of movie, and honestly, I chortled regularly enough watching it that I would have applauded heartily at that freeze-frame in a movie theatre.