Director: Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff
Cast: Cassidy Gifford, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Reese Mishler, Travis Cluff, Price T. Morgan
Runtime: 1 hr 27 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Horror)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: thegallowsmovie.net
Opening Day: 27 August 2015
Synopsis: Twenty years after an accident caused the death of the lead actor during a high school play, students at the same small town school resurrect the failed stage production in a misguided attempt to honor the anniversary of the tragedy—but ultimately find out that some things are better left alone.
Let’s be frank – it’s too easy these days to dismiss the latest low-budget horror done “found footage” style as yet another gimmick. What novelty it had when it was first introduced into the genre by ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and then made fresh again in ‘Paranormal Activity’ has all but dissipated after a seemingly endless string of middling entries that use it as a distraction from an absence of plot, character and basic filmmaking techniques. That’s the kind of audience skepticism that this latest from the Blumhouse factory – which also birthed the ‘Paranormal Activity’ franchise – has to overcome in order to even break out.
Unfortunately, this filmmaking debut by Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff falls far short on several counts. High school hauntings are not a new premise, and the duo, who also assume writing duties, base theirs around an accidental death in a Nebraska high school which claimed the life of its lead actor during a stage performance of a play named ‘The Gallows’. For rather unconvincing reasons, it seems the school is keen to stage the same play yet again twenty years later, which of course serves as the perfect excuse for the spirit of the student killed years ago to return to haunt its present performers.
Conveniently, the writers-directors have confined the events of the film largely to the night before the opening, on which its lead actor Reese (Reese Mishler), his do-no-gooder football buddy Ryan (Ryan Shoos) and Ryan’s peppy cheerleader girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) sneak into the school auditorium in order to destroy the sets just so they need not go on stage the day after. Their malicious act of vandalism hits a snag when they run into the play’s lead actress Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown), who is the reason why Reese agreed to do the play in the first place. As it turns out, Pfeifer’s presence that evening isn’t just coincidence, although the filmmakers save that revelation for a nasty twist at the end, which also cannily leaves the door open for a sequel.
That would be probable if they had bothered to put more thought into the rest of the movie, which unfolds with thudding tedium. First, the quartet find themselves locked in. Then, they realise that the ghost has somehow managed not just to jam their cellphone signals but also take out the telephone lines in the school office. That same ghost also seems to want them to find something, which is why it leaves certain doors deliberately open so that they can discover an old TV in a room at the back of the office showing a recording of the 1993 play. Only in the third act does something mildly creepy turn up – that is, a shadowy figure, noose in hand, sneaking up behind each one of the high school kids in turn – but there is too little buildup to make the motif truly scary.
Fundamentally, the film’s weaknesses lie with its fidelity to the “found footage” conceit. Admirable though it may be how the filmmakers never step outside it, the format ultimately requires us to suspend our disbelief just why any of the characters would be recording the madness around them even as they shriek and howl down the school corridors. It is never explained why Ryan has such an obsession with capturing the events down on camera, nor why Cassidy or Reese picks up on that same tendency after Ryan meets his end. Ironically, it also makes the action very hard to follow, and so a typical sequence begins with a brief shot of the horror followed by a lot of jerky camerawork that just gets on your nerves every single time.
Like the countless other forgettable “found footage” horrors that have come before it, ‘The Gallows’ is trapped by its own technique and ends up worse for it. Indeed, there is much potential in a story set in and around the eerie hallways of a high school in the dead of the night, but that promise is squandered in an underdeveloped story and in the service of a filmmaking style that is frankly more maddening than anything. It certainly isn’t the worst in its class, but there is nothing terrifying in between the blurry shots that make this not only a boring film but a bothersome one as well.
(Yet another reason to dislike the “found footage” technique, this low-budget horror has not enough plot or scares to warrant a lot of jerking around)
Review by Gabriel Chong