Movie Review: The Gallows (2015)

 

Gallowsby Alan F. Zundel

Creepy location? Check. Teens in danger? Check. Sudden sounds and jump cuts? Check. Scary movie—well…

If the three elements above are enough for you, maybe you will find “The Gallows” scary. I can imagine some teenagers who just want to kill an evening getting a few goosebumps out of it.

But I found myself yawning several times. And groaning. And scrunching up my face at the stupidity of it.

“The Gallows” is yet another of the seeming endless parade of “found footage” horror movies. It starts with a videotape from the 1990s of a high school play in which one of the actors on a gallows is accidently hanged. (They put a real noose around the kid’s neck? I hope the school had good insurance.)

Jump to the present, where we see the present day story via video from a digital camera and a couple of smartphones, most of it shot by a character who carries a camera around everywhere for no apparent reason. He even records himself with his friends engaged in breaking and entering and vandalism. Why? I don’t know. He’s an idiot.

The high school has inexplicably decided to put on the same play. The movie is chock full of such illogical plot details. Sometimes those kind of things can slip by in a movie, and sometimes they can be kind of fun to spot. Here they come at you so relentlessly you grimace in disgust.

Reese Houser (played by Reese Mishler) is a football player who has been recruited into the class play. In the play he plays the same character that got hanged twenty years earlier. You’d think that would make him nervous about how well constructed the gallows is, but instead he is preoccupied with a crush on Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown), the leading lady.

Reese’s pal Ryan Shoos (Ryan Shoos—I guess they got tired of trying to make up last names for the characters), the idiot with the digital camera, has the bright idea of sneaking into the school at night and destroying the set. He convinces Reese this will save him from making an ass of himself because Reese can’t act. Apparently Ryan isn’t worried about accidental hangings either.

Cheerleader Cassidy Spilker (Cassidy Gifford) tags along for no explicit reason, but you have to have a cheerleader in there somewhere.

They sneak in the high school and start destroying the set, but are interrupted when Pfeifer shows up. Reese tries to convince her that he just was there to rehearse, but then strange things start happening. And the four teens discover they are locked in the school and can’t get out. The rest of the movie consists of them running around creepy places in the high school, like basement rooms and an attic, as “scary” things keep happening. Up to an including, of course, deaths by hanging.

Really, there’s not much more to say about the plot. There is no discernable subtext, such as sexual activity being punished or the zombie-like behavior of consumer culture. There is little suspense, as whoever or whatever is endangering the kids follows no rules and so there can be no figuring it out. There is no character development to speak of. Writer/directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing are the ones who should be hanged.

The actors are not too bad, given what they have to work with. Reese Mishler is a likeable presence and actually seems like a real person much of the time. He can act, although his character can’t. He fumbles in an awkward scene of embarrassed conversation when Pfeifer discovers him in the school, but otherwise comports himself well.

Cassidy Gifford also does a creditable job. Hard to assess her range as an actress, as she only gets to portray snottiness, anger and extreme fright, but she did them well. I hope her association with this movie doesn’t hurt her career.

Pfeifer Brown is okay, although her acting is even harder to assess. Her character as written would be hard to make convincing. Her motives are even more illogical than the other characters, which is saying a lot.

Ryan Shoos—even harder to say whether he can act. His character was an idiot. He annoyed everyone in the movie, and me as well. At least you know—c’mon, this isn’t a spoiler because you know it’s going to happen—he will be one of first to get taken out.

Unless someone can come up with a very clever reason in a new screenplay for using it, I hope this movie will spell the end of the “found footage” genre. (It’s not “footage” anymore anyway, because you can’t measure digital information by the foot.) It added nothing to the movie. It didn’t make it more realistic, or give you a sense of actually being there. It just limited what could be shown and made it necessary to have some idiot carry a camera around everywhere.

Of course, the real reason for using the concept is that such a movie can usually be produced more cheaply. I guess it is encouraging to know that people can still break into the movies with little more than an idea for a low budget horror movie.

Maybe there is a chance for someone with a more original concept.

 

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