The Gallows (2015)

Every School Has Its Spirit

Thanks to The Blair Witch Project (1999) and the Paranormal Activity series, any idiot with a smart phone thinks that they’re a movie director! Given the low production cost and high box office return of the ‘found-footage’ sub-genre, producers and aspiring directors have taken it upon themselves to release an overwhelming number of ‘shaky-cam’ flicks over the past decade or so, most with mediocre results, turning the once credible style of filmmaking into a schlocky, eye-rolling affair. Written, directed and produced by Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff, Gold Fools (2012), and shot entirely outside of the Hollywood system on a shoe-string budget, The Gallows is yet another in the long line of sub-par, seen-it-all-before found-footage outings that the industry could have done without. To be fair, The Gallows actually isn’t that bad; it has a decent premise — one that’s coupled with a back-story too — and finishes off on somewhat of a surprising note, echoing the likes of a creepy campfire tale, but the experience, as a whole, leaves a lot to be desired.

You never know who's watching ...
You never know who’s watching …

The Gallows opens in October 1993, with a roughed-up camcorder recording of a stage play at Beatrice High School in Beatrice, Nebraska, named ‘The Gallows,’ where a cast member, Charlie Grimille, has his head in a noose. Witnessing Charlie fall to a horrific and unforeseen death, the freak accident shocks schoolmates, parents and staff alike. Twenty years on and the exact same play is being revived at the exact same school, all in meticulous detail mind you, right down to the original artwork on the cover of the program. Whilst trying to honor the anniversary of the tragedy by resurrecting the failed production, everyone involved seems to be having a jolly good time, completely oblivious to the show’s grim past. As it turns out, former football star turned thespian, Reese Houser (Reese Mishler), has decided to take on the leading role in an effort to get closer to the show’s leading lady, Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown). Much to the dismay of his disappointed father, who’s upset that Reese has quit the football team, and his obnoxious friend Ryan Shoos (Ryan Shoos) — who’s recording rehearsals while ridiculing, mocking and belittling the entire cast and crew — Reese is adamant on going through with the show for the sake of his on-stage kiss with Pfeifer, even though he has no artistic talent at all and kind of stinks.

Thankfully, the dim-witted Ryan hatches a moronic plan to save Reese from humiliation by sneaking into the school after dark — through an unlocked door — in order to destroy the production’s set just before opening night, alleviating Reese from his acting duties whilst presumably giving him the opportunity to console Pfeifer once the play has been cancelled. What’s more, these buffoons decide to record the entire thing for reasons still unknown. Anyway, Reese and Ryan’s cheerleader girlfriend Cassidy Spilker (Cassidy Gifford) go along with Ryan’s idiotic plan and the threesome slip into the theater late that night. There, they run into Pfeifer, who’s apparently checking up on the trio, and together, the teens mysteriously get locked inside the building. Taunted by a barrage of ‘paranormal activity’ and bizarre occurrences, the group come to believe that they are being pursued the ghost of Charlie, who has returned to finally make his curtain call.

Stage Fright!
Stage Fright!

First off, The Gallows barely justifies the use of its ‘cheap’ found-footage aesthetic, giving viewers a half-baked notion that these teenagers actually needed to keep the cameras rolling for lights and whatnot, whilst opening as a police investigation into the deaths of the aforementioned. Unless these officials are searching for actual proof of supernatural existence, this footage is essentially useless in the hands of the law. From there, The Gallows basically follows the three archetypal hand-held feature acts; every outing generally begins with a semi-interesting half an hour or so which sets the scene and introduces the film’s main players — The Gallows has fun with its opening portion which is set in amongst the High School riffraff. In the second act, things generally get kind of confusing as the narrative begins to unfold. The final act is usually just a lot of running and screaming, accompanied by jerky camera movements and shots of folks crying with their faces shoved in recording devices; when we eventually lose the lights, some clown’s always got night vision handy too. So, while The Gallows starts off okay and finishes on a high note, the bulk of the picture is rather dull as viewers follow the teens through several miles of scary looking corridors and narrow hallways — which have been built under the stage for no reason whatsoever — as they try to figure a way out of the school.

Although the flick tries to be ‘oh so self-referential,’ as the play-within-the-film has the exact same title of the movie we’re watching, whilst the actors share identical names to that of their characters, The Gallows isn’t as clever or as sharp as the filmmakers like to think it is. Bar a couple of moderately staged sequences near the end, the picture lacks genuine suspense, relying solely on loud noises and exhausted clichés for shock scares, with Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff failing to build any real tension or dread. A long static shot, illuminated by red emergency lighting, where the ominous hangman emerges from the shadows, is certainly effective, however its impact is minimal, given the fact that the better part of feature’s advertising campaign revolves around this very same sequence.

Wanna Hang?
Wanna Hang?

Furthermore, the picture is populated by a number of shoddy unknown actors and unlikable characters. Ryan Shoos — the guy with the camera — the only actor retaining both his first and last names for the role, is a bona fide bully and a detestable jerk, whereas his buddy, Reese (Reese Mishler), comes off as a coward and a liar. Leading lady Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown) it literally a ‘drama queen’ as she spends the majority of her scenes snapping orders and bossing others around, making sure that she sees the play through, right to the very end, seeing as it was never finished in the past. Instead of rooting for these guys, viewers will no doubt be anticipating their demise! Where’s that hangman when you need him? The only somewhat affable character in the entire picture is Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford), a bubbly cheerleader who just wants in on the action, which raises the question as to why she’d even put up with her rotten boyfriend in the first place.

Painfully contrived and completely uninspired, it’s safe to assume that The Gallows merely exists as an ‘advert’ for both its cast and crew, who are obviously eager to move onto bigger things, as they clearly aren’t interested in doing anything innovative here. Lacking the gore and nudity that most horror fans thrive on whilst squandering its ill-omened theater setting, The Gallows is certain to frustrate most genre enthusiasts. Sure, there are countless other ‘worse’ found-footage pictures around, but those who demand a little more from their entertainment need look elsewhere as this cookie cutter just won’t cut it!

2 / 5 – Average

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Gallows is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia