We live in an era when horror is finally getting mainstream recognition for applying intent and socio-political purpose to the genre. Jordan Peele plunged the world into a confrontational Sunken Place with Get Out to great fanfare (and a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nod), while this year Ari Aster explored unaddressed trauma, hyper-dysfunction, and inherited mental illness in Hereditary, which has the critics' tongues-a-clucking. It's easy to get tunnel vision amid deep reads, hot takes, and rubrics of woke-ness. However, sometimes a film comes along that serves to remind (particularly those of us in critical circles) that "fun" need not be a pejorative descriptor of art. Evan Cecil's Lasso is a reminder that not every horror film needs to be a world-changing revelation, nor does it need to prompt cultural introspection. Sometimes, it's just fine to sit back and enjoy the show.
The Epic Pictures summary of the film is as follows: "Tour guides unwittingly lead their group into a death trap when they bring the people deep into the woods for a rodeo, and relentless cowboys begin to hunt them like animals as part of an evil ritual." A few things: the "tour guides" are feckless youths, the "group" is a gathering of senior citizens, and the "cowboys" are juiced-up Uber Rednecks (well, at least two of them). As opposed to the weakened-by-inbreeding but savage hillbillies of The Hills Have Eyes, these backwoods brutes are more calculating caricatures of hyper-masculine rodeo culture. No thematic layer cake here, this one is pretty straightforward, folks.
Lasso is Cecil's feature directorial debut, following a comfy reign in television comfort food fare such as Sex Sent Me To The Slammer, The Day I Almost Died, I (Almost) Got Away With It, and I Faked My Own Death. Not only is the IMDB scroll-through on this filmmaker an adventure of its own, but it acts as a CV that all but screams, "Sure, you could be watching the Emmy-nominated stuff right now, but I've got the thrills you're looking for and I won't make you wait for them." Consider this your caveat that this film, while I'd love for you to see it, won't be competing with Suspiria and Mandy for that coveted Top 10 spot on your year-end list.
Concept-wise, Lasso takes a logical enough premise to outrageous execution, cultivating excess from every square inch of the fertile narrative ground. This is as horror does, oscillating between true, accessible dread and an exploitation of genre elements to the point of absurdity. What the former's impact in Lasso is lacking, it makes up for in the latter. If the biker gang of Satan's Sadists had listened to more late-stage Johnny Cash and did Crossfit, you'd have the cadre of sadistic super-cowboys featured here. The baddies use their rodeo skills after hours to pick off a stranded group of grandmas and pop-pops, as you do. Naturally, the ranch hands use the implements at their disposal, yeah? So let's talk about the shining star of this movie: the balls-out conceit of its bloodshed.
Some films, regardless of overall quality, have achieved a cult-like following or simply an offbeat appreciation for their inventive kills. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II comes to mind with its locker crunch kill and Death Spa gainfully employs a frozen flying fish towards a poor soul's fatal end. Lasso plays in this sandbox; with ropes, stocks, cattle prods, and glowing branding irons making their mark. Occasionally,a stock whip is given a metal-pronged attachment for maximum jugular vein rippage, and one of the film's more memorable moments involves a rather macabre play on decoy hunting methods. You may wonder what Sean Patrick Flanery is doing amidst all of this, as an actor who has been in a thing or two. Well, I'll tell you: he's doing the absolute most. Flanery's role is that of Ennis, the kind one-armed rodeo cowboy who becomes a target of the killer cowpokes. Is he so kind that he tries to save the other victims, losing his only arm in the process? Why yes, yes he does. Does he spend an entire sequence operating a PA system with his mouth and feet, in order to taunt his aggressors? Why yes, yes he does. Lasso isn't here to change the world, friends. It's fun. We're having fun here.
No one cast member is any more capable in their role than another as they get bumped off here and there, but there is something to be said for Lasso's treatment of its victims as livestock, and torture-deaths all involving realistic to hyperbolic depictions of routine animal slaughter. Many death sequences ape those grainy internet videos you've seen of farm animals being unceremoniously dispatched, but with human fodder now subject to cruel farming and ritual practices. But for all of the clever country gimmicry, the branding irons and cattle prods don't penetrate beyond the surface; their environmental commentary is skin-deep. And why should it be? Lasso isn't here to change the world, it's here to show you an animal rights activist being stretched to death by horses.
Those aiming for more high-falutin' engagement may find solace in that the film does follow film scholar Carol J. Clover's common guideline among many Final Boys; the wishy-washy young tour guide Simon (Andrew Jacobs), who seems to be screenwriter Roberto Marinas' empathetic focus when the film isn't playing character shift Whack-A-Mole, is the feminized soft boy who can't even muster the requisite brute strength to win a carnival hammer strike game. As with, say, Casey in The Faculty, it's only through a reclaimed masculinity (displayed by violent, decisive kills on his part) that he completes his arc and boosts his chance of surviving the Hoedown from Hell. It's not intentionally sexist, just a feature of a system that has worked for decades in horror cinema. In any case, this unwoke characterization isn't by any means novel in a horror joint, nor is the visceral but surface-level indictment of inhumance treatment of animals. But Lasso isn't here to change the world, it's here to show you a provincial boogeyman all hopped up on gym candy getting his dome caved in by an iron weight.
Look, if a film entertains, it's successful. Are you the sort of moviegoer who can revel in a film's wildest components while acknowledging that the sum of those parts won't be entering the Criterion Closet anytime soon? If you are, then Lasso is right in your wheelhouse.