'The Gallows' has nothing to offer its premise, or found-footage horror in general
The Gallows Warner Bros.
Director: Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing
Screenplay: Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff
Starring: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos and Cassidy Gifford
Rated R / 1 hour, 21 minutes
July 10, 2015
(out of four)
Alright listen up, every character from The Gallows: You've got no one to blame but yourselves. At some point you've got to start taking responsibility for your actions. Look, you were the ones who decided to put on a production of the same play - at the same school, in the same physical space - during which a kid infamously died on stage two decades ago. What were you thinking? It's like none of you have ever seen a horror movie before.
I don't want to speak for the entire audience, but I'm pretty sure we're in agreement that you all got exactly what you deserved. I know that's heartless but ... I mean, you're the people who decided to commemorate the occasion by deliberately printing your programs as identical replicas of the ones used in the previous (tragic) production. Who thought that was a good idea? Who approved it?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not even blaming just you kids. You're teenagers - you're supposed to be dumb. But this all would have had to go through the drama teacher - not to mention the school administration. That's just a basic failure of leadership is what it is. Deliberately recreating the exact circumstances of the infamous death of one of your former students? I'm not saying you guys had it coming, per se ... but weren't you kinda playing with fire, just a little bit?
I mean, did you really think the dead kid's spirit wasn't haunting the stage of your vaunted high-school auditorium? And even then - all you had to do was pick a different play. Do you know how many plays there are out there? Look, I've got a whole stack of 'em right here - was The Gallows really the best option? Look me in the eyes and tell me that was the best play you could come up with.
I didn't think so. But it really was that simple. All you had to do was pick Our Town like everyone else does, and none of this would have happened. All you dumb kids would still be alive right now.
But no. You had to go and choose The Gallows. I mean, that dead kid's ghost has gotta have some self-respect, doesn't he? What, like he's not supposed to take his long-awaited revenge on everyone when they cavalierly revive the scene of the crime right in the middle of his eternal resting place? You're basically just taunting him at that point. Ol' Charlie can only take so much ...
And so on.
All kidding about its hilariously avoidable premise aside, The Gallows is a film that has no idea what to do with itself. Ostensibly it's all about setting; the story takes place primarily inside a school theatre, where our protagonist quartet is trapped for the better part of 80 minutes. The single-location scheme is the kind of limitation that should be freeing for the filmmakers, who have the opportunity to explore and exploit all the features and peculiarities of the auditorium - the dark corners and the hallways, the spaces behind the curtains, the shadows in the balcony. And yet the setting here has virtually no impact.
Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing (who also co-wrote the very bad screenplay) instead focus on what amounts to visual narration - which is not to be confused with visual storytelling, of which this film has little. No, the characters are simply walking us through their terrifying adventure; we follow along as they loudly explain all the things they figure out about their circumstances. For all of the visual acuity on display here, The Gallows might as well be an episode of an old-timey radio program.
The found-footage technique - which Cluff and Lofing needlessly milk by adding in title cards explaining that the movie we're about to see is made up of footage recovered by the authorities - hamstrings the film (as the format usually does) both visually and narratively. It becomes particularly aggravating as the horror ramps up and the presence of the camera becomes more and more of an inexplicability. (This is a flaw I tend to forgive when a film is otherwise using the POV style effectively, but in most other cases it's persistently undermining.)
Our cameraman and guide through most of this is Ryan (Ryan Shoos), who embodies a very specific, Matthew Lillard-in-Scream brand of irritating (in-your-face obnoxiousness that the movie seems to mistake for charming, boyish exuberance). His friend (and former football teammate) Reese (Reese Housher) is the male lead in the play (much to Ryan's annoyance), a role he only took in order to get close to the leading lady and type-A drama student Pfeifer (Pfeifer Ross). But somehow Ryan convinces Reese (who is rightfully unconfident in his acting ability) to break into the school the night before the premiere and trash the set, presumably forcing the play's cancellation.
But unbeknownst to them all (including Ryan's girlfriend Cassidy, who tags along for the fun, and Pfeifer, who just happens to show up at the theatre at the same time as those mischievous boys), poor old Charlie's spirit is lying in wait (he's been patient these 22 years, it seems) and proceeds to make their night a living hell.
But it all goes for naught, as the evening's exploits aren't given nearly the visceral jolt Charlie probably would have wanted. I mean, he's been planning this revenge for so long, the least we could do is give him a director who can deliver a decent reveal shot.