The Gallows hangs itself out to fail
Review by Daniel Rester
The Gallows is the latest example of a modern horror film with an interesting premise that is ultimately let down by its script and execution. The film – written and directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing – begins by showing a tragedy involving a hanging that occurred in 1993 when students were doing a play called The Gallows. When modern students attempt to recreate the play in 2013, some of them meet haunting results – as expected.
The students in question include football player-turned-actor Reese Houser (Reese Mishler), his jerk of a friend Ryan Shoos (Ryan Shoos), Ryan’s cheerleader girlfriend Cassidy Spilker (Cassidy Gifford), and Reese’s crush Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown). Those character names are really original, huh? Anyways, the creepy going-ons occur after Reese, Ryan, and Cassidy break into the high school to destroy the set of the play for certain reasons. They are soon joined by Pfeifer and then all four are trapped in the school and repeatedly attacked by a ghost from the previous tragedy.
I went into The Gallows hoping for an entertaining and scary 81-minute film. I sometimes got that with the picture, but not nearly enough for it to matter. Instead Cluff and Lofing’s film begins to slog as it resorts to a typical assault of jump scares and shaky-cam “found footage” tactics. The audience gets little built-up tension and is instead treated to multiple scenes of quietness followed by expected boo moments – with sudden music that shouldn’t be there if the film is trying to be a found footage piece. Some of the jumps are actually fun, but after about fifty renditions of the same thing it becomes a bit yawn-inducing.
The scares also don’t come across as strongly as they could because the characters aren’t really worth rooting for in the bad situations. Ryan is a character who is a total jerk and the audience has to suffer as the first twenty minutes or so are just spent with him as he acts like an asshole to everyone. It’s fine to have one character who is a pain and who you don’t care if he or she lives or dies. Unfortunately the nicer characters in Ryan’s company are cookie cutter in their shading and stupid in their decision-making as well. Basically I couldn’t care less about these people and yearned for some interesting horror characters like Sidney Prescott or Laurie Strode to show up.
The characters aren’t aided much by the rest of the script either. The dialogue provides an occasional chuckle, but it mostly ranges from ordinary to terrible as the cast members try to do the most with it that they can; this mostly consists of “What was that?” and “Let’s get out of here!” lines coming from the mouths of the actors though. The story also stays thin as the first act intrigues but then gives way to a repetitious second act before eventually leading to a twisty third act that doesn’t quite gel. Not even the main antagonist pops on the page or screen and will easily be forgettable compared to the many great horror icons.
What The Gallows gets right is the setting and atmosphere. I don’t care who you are, empty and dark hallways in a high school at night are simply unsettling. Cluff and Lofing take advantage of the variety of rooms a high school has to offer and make the normal settings feel uncomfortable for the audience at times.
There are admittedly a couple of hair-raising scenes, with one including a wide shot of one character and something involving a locker. Another cool idea involves one scene having two different perspectives and time frames. It’s too bad that the majority of the film wastes the opportunity of having more moments like these and instead resorts to framing and movement where it’s often hard to tell what’s happening.
There are pieces of The Gallows that could have branched into a great horror film. However, those pieces are lost in the shuffle of the many rote and disappointing factors of the film. Die-hard fans of found footage films may want to seek out The Gallows for a minimal bit of fun, but others won’t find anything new or engaging at all about the genre with the film.
My Grade: D+ (on an F to A+ scale).
Viewing Recommendation: Skip It, Wait for Cable, Wait for Blu-ray Rental/VOD or See It at Matinee Price, Worth Full-Price Theater Ticket
MPAA Rating: R (for some disturbing violent content and terror).
Runtime: 1 hour and 21 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: July 10th, 2015.