Review by Bryan Yentz
Starring Sean Patrick Flanery, Lindsey Morgan, Skyler Cooper and Andrew Jacobs
Written by Roberto Marinas
Directed by Evan Cecil
Come on down to the Hacket Rodeo! We got clowns! Games! Fun for the whole family! And if ya’ll wanna stay late, we gots a special little exhibition for those with quick wits and quicker feet! Try your luck in the sooty ring against our host of herders who have a penchant for all manner of western slaughter! Run from the canterin’ hooves of our lasso-twirlin’ riders! Avoid the crushin’ mallet of our very own butcher! And just try and steer clear of the cowboy’s snappin’ tri-pronged whip! It’s a once in a lifetime chance at survival so what are ya’ll waitin’ for? When you’re at the Hacket Rodeo, you’re the other white meat!
Directed by Evan Cecil and written by Robert Marinas (who penned the SAW knockoff HEADGAME), LASSO follows an unlucky band of senior citizens, their chaperones and an assortment of country bumpkins as they’re attacked by evil stockmen and forced to participate in a murderous rodeo where the chance of perseverance extends only as far as the pit of mangled bodies just beyond the stables. It’s a perfectly simple premise that contains a haystack of potential and comes off like a rancher’s take on THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (with some blatant HOSTEL inspiration corralled for good measure). However, “contains” and “delivers” on said potential are two different things and LASSO gets it right about, eh, half the time?
For starters, LASSO actually contains a strangely eclectic cast of characters which range from young to old. This is easily the movie’s strongest attribute as it gives the plot a hefty dose of personality that it would have otherwise greatly lacked. Standout amongst the troupe are Trish (a hay-stacking juggernaut of a woman played by Skyler Cooper) and Ennis (Sean Patrick Flanery as a one-armed Bronc-rider with a heart of gold and unstoppable perseverance). As these two characters alone are compelling in both physicality and performance, I truly wish the flick had simply followed them and their escape from Hacket ranch. Unfortunately, LASSO loses an egregious amount of traction by centralizing the story around—without hyperbole—one of the worst protagonists imaginable.
Andrew Jacobs plays Simon, A wholly unlikable bore who LITERALLY begins crying when the going gets rough. Scene after scene has him witness something repugnant, reduce himself to inactivity & self-victimization, and in one particularly ridiculous scene, clutch his knees on the floor and weep until one of the survivors has to lie to him about how great he is so that he’ll man-up and deal with the situation. . . which he still really doesn’t do. Following this, he tries to hit on one of the other girls (yes, while they’re being stalked) and continues to perform like a coward until his inevitable “arc” (if you can really call it that). I kid you not, by the time the climax galloped in, those viewing the film alongside me were literally cheering for the villains to just kill him already. Needless to say, howls of disappointment followed when he didn’t bite it, but continued to ruin scene after scene.
Simon’s reluctant disposition consistently reins LASSO to an abrupt halt as both character and viewer must wait for him to do something—anything—to drive the film forward. In all honesty, a majority of LASSO’s issues solely derive from the writer’s utterly terrible choice in “hero” and begs the question of, with at least three better characters at disposal, why not focus on them? Why do they play second fiddle to this whiny wimp? Had Simon not have been the forefront of the film’s champions, some of the plot holes and poor writing might have been avoided, as it is, it makes those faults all the more apparent. One particular moment has a buff foe (juiced on some horse-steroid for good measure) pitchfork a sorry sap before witnessing three of our victims flee into an adjacent office. Instead of the obvious (like the rampaging cowboy breaking down the door after them) we’re treated to a “consolation scene” wherein Simon must sob and be told “everything’ll be okay”. He finally agrees and they set about devising a means of escape. Next scene! But wait, wasn’t that ‘roided roustabout just outside? Where has he been this whole time? Did he just leave? Well, in LASSO’s logic, Simon’s breakdowns matter more than reason and proper storytelling. There are several protracted moments of this same nature that rob them of their intensity and had me mentally yelling at the screen, “Do something! Why are you just standing there dumbfounded!?”
When the screen time isn’t placed on Simon’s increasingly bizarre choices, LASSO actually provides an engagingly absurd time. Outside of some poorly-rendered CG (like some blood-spurts as well as a stampede), LASSO features a bevy of creatively practical violence that goes from laughably over the top to surprisingly brutal at the drop of a Cattleman. If the narrative lacks proper pacing, the action makes up for it with audacious regularity. Disappointingly, the film’s signature duster-clad villain is nowhere near as menacing as the admittedly cool cover/poster art would suggest (his attire doesn’t look like it fits), is barely in the movie and goes down like a newborn calf. Again, a misfire for what could have been a potentially nifty concept for a heavyweight slasher, as well as a cool visual contrast to the rather blasé baddies that surround him.
And just as the sun is about to set on the bloody prairie, LASSO manages to not only miss the perfect post-credit opportunity (given a certain character’s refusal to succumb to the grievous wounds they’ve repeatedly endured), but wastes time burning celluloid on shots of dead bodies. . . okay? There was nothing else to put into the denouement before the cut to black? Where LASSO could’ve been a horror-hybrid spectacle worthy of repeat viewing, it unfortunately chooses to tighten its noose around the slowest, weakest member of the herd while leaving the best concepts to escape the corral.