The Gallows (2015) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: Rated R for some disturbing violent content and terror, and brief strong language
Running Time: 81 min.
Cast: Ryan Shoos, Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Cassidy Gifford, Travis Cluff
Director: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Screenplay: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Review published July 12, 2015
Blumhouse Productions releases another cheapie horror flick, reportedly budgeted at a measly $100,000, funded independently before it was picked up by Warner Bros., hoping to recoup their investment about 100-fold by the end of its run. As long as they know that horror movie fans will come out to see just about any horror flick, not matter if it has bankable stars or production values, there’s no reason to think they are going to change their current pattern any time soon.
The film opens to 4:3 footage taken from a camcorder with a date stamp of 1993, shooting a Beatrice, Nebraska high school production of a play called, “The Gallows”. The footage is most notable for the fact that on this fateful night, the actor who was slated to be fake-hanged in the gallows, understudy Charlie Grimille, ends up actually hanged. Over two decades later, the school has decided to put the infamous “The Gallows” on as a production yet again, apparently figuring enough time has passed since the “accident”, despite doing the play on the anniversary of the tragedy, and using the same set, no less.
School jock Ryan (Shoos, As Night Comes) decides to film everything going on in his life for reasons unknown, including a good deal of footage as his buddy Reese (Mishler, The Harrow) is rehearsing for the male lead in the play, which he’s obviously not ready for. Ryan thinks all of these theater students are total nerds, so he mocks them throughout all of this footage, and especially enjoys getting on Reese for perhaps having a crush on the queen of all theater nerds, lead actress Pfeifer (Brown, My Many Sons).
With cheerleader girlfriend Cassidy (Gifford, God's Not Dead) in tow, Ryan cajoles Reese into breaking into the playhouse and vandalizing the set on the eve of opening night to delay the production and give Reese more time to prepare. However, they’re not alone, as Pfeifer ends up showing up for reasons that aren’t made completely clear, ending their fun for a spell, only to have things get infinitely worse when they find themselves locked in the theater with no means of communication out, and something thing sinister and supernatural within who isn’t taking kindly to intruders.
As with many of their other releases, from their very first film, Paranormal Activity, to Creep, released into theaters just two weeks prior to The Gallows, this is a found-footage horror flick, purportedly mostly shot from the actual characters in the film using their apparently endless-storage cellphones in ultra-HD, and batteries that last for hours during non-stop recording with the flashlight feature on during most of it. As with most of these sorts of films in recent years, there’s no honest attempt to explain just why any of them are bothering to record any of it, or who compiled all of this footage, which takes from well over a handful of sources, including some camcorder footage from the 1990s, and for whom the intended audience is. Or why they have an eerie, ambient score to accompany this footage, if it’s supposed to be evidence in a police investigation.
The only thing that differentiates The Gallows from any of the plethora of horror flicks that have come out in the last five years is that most of its action takes place in and around a high school theater. Basically, it’s just an excuse to have lots of creepy corridors and predictable jump scares in a dark, cavernous environment. There’s absolutely no suspense to the film, operating on the modern-day pledge to delivery sensory stimulation of eerie sight and sound in place of characters you grow to care about and a storyline worth following.
As the film is not interesting in the slightest, for much of the run time, I sat there merely contemplating all of the things that made little sense. For instance, why do these recordings also capture the LED warnings when a battery is going to run out? That seems a feature that would render most footage pretty useless for most consumers. And who talks and quips incessantly while trying to record the performance of their loved ones while they appear in the school play?
And we're supposed to believe that the murderous spirit who is the evil presence in the theater is Charlie, then who or what was the thing that caused the first death by hanging in 1993 to occur? We could resolve it was an accident, but the movie seems to want us to believe something more sinister was at play.
Logic problems being what they are in horror flicks, what makes The Gallows damn near intolerable is that every single character in this film is downright annoying to the extreme. This is especially true of the main character, Ryan, who is supposedly a jock who hates all things nerd, and yet he does the nerdiest thing anyone can imagine in his school: tag along while one of his football buddies, Reese, is rehearsing in the school play, recording and commenting all the while on his cell phone. Not even the dweebiest of dweebs would do something like that, and how pathetic he is might be further compounded by the fact that his portrayer, Ryan Shoos, looks old enough to be a grad student in college. You’ll likely be hoping, praying, wishing that unfunny bully Ryan meets his untimely demise early, preferably in the most gruesome of ways possible.
Though there are two credited directors, given that this is a found-footage film, there’s not much credit you can give them for any sense of style. Those prone to nausea induced by perpetually shaking cameras should take note that you won’t get much respite from that aspect. The plot is absolutely predictable, as you and glean what the ending will be before the halfway mark arrives, leaving little else to keep you awake save for the persistently aggravating jump-scares that mostly rely on eardrum-shattering noise that surely must be about ten times louder than just about any other sound that emanates from the speakers.
The only thing positive I can say about The Gallows is that it sports a mercifully short 81-minute run time, if you think less time spent beating you over the head with a stupid stick is worthy of praising. Outside of this, it’s a cash-in movie that plays every bit into the basest of audience expectations for a film like this, which means you’ll probably stick your fingers in your ears right before the jumps, unless your hand is already engaged with covering over your mouth when you yawn, which will be often.
©2015 Vince Leo