Directors: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Starring: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford
Release Date: 17th July 2015 (UK)
A school play that ended with the accidental death of its lead actor is being put back on stage two decades later. What could possibly go wrong? After seeing The Gallows, my answer seems to gravitate towards “not enough”. Not enough to create a truly unnerving experience. Not enough to stay with you after the credits have rolled. Maybe just enough to get you to jump out of your seat a few times during its 80 minutes of running time.
The Gallows is a found-footage horror – a genre that makes some squirm in terror and others yawn and look at their watches. Unfortunately, I doubt this film will appeal to either type of viewer. If you have a chronic dislike for found footage, The Gallows is unlikely to turn your viewpoint upside down. And if you have seen more than one flick of this kind, then there is little fresh material for you here. However, someone who has never watched found footage before and likes the concept of it, might just be able to enjoy it.
The Gallows is populated by a classic horror cast of characters: the class clown, the cheerleader, the theater nerd and the conflicted football player who somehow got the lead part in the play (high-school logic, I suppose). The jock also has to choose between ruining the play with his atrocious acting and ruining the play by sneaking into the school at night and wrecking the set. Needless to say, he and his buddies choose the latter and conveniently bring a camera along, so they can document their acts of vandalism.
Despite the shaky logic of this setup, the film is somewhat redeemed by a clever and inevitable ending that makes a lot of sense. I suppose a reward was in order for anyone who managed to sit through the main body of the film, most of which is spent following our four characters as they run around the school, chased by a unseen supernatural assailant. Naturally, doors constitute an impenetrable obstacle. In fact, The Gallows would surely score 100% on any checklist of found-footage clichés. We have self-opening lockers, doors slamming, people being dragged away from the camera, random gooey stuff, heavy footsteps, exposition by VHS, bad acting, little character development and, of course, well-framed shots of feet.
To be fair, some of the scares are decent, but nowhere near as entertaining as Paranormal Activity or as disturbing as The Blair Witch. The few good moments occur when the film takes a non-linear approach and replays a scene with a known outcome from a different camera source. It is smartly done and creates great tension. There are also a handful of good-looking shots on the rare occasions when the camera is still, but otherwise the film does not concern itself with such trivialities as cinematography.
But the real problem with The Gallows is that, unlike other films of the genre, it does not have a “mythology” or even the suggestion of one. Little explanation is offered and it seems evil things are happening for the sake of it. There is no delving into deep secrets, no disturbing revelations or forbidden knowledge. Just physical threat. The Gallows might speed up your heart rate, but it is unlikely to get to your head.