Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Disturbing Violent Content and Terror
Directed by: Travis Cluff & Chris Lofing
Written by: Travis Cluff & Chris Lofing
Starring: Reese Mishler, Cassidy Gifford, Ryan Shoos, Pfeifer Brown, Alexis Schneider, Price T. Morgan & Mackie Burt
Found footage horror movies have their fans and lots of detractors. Though I have a soft spot for certain handheld scary movies, it has gotten harder and harder defend the subgenre when it’s overpopulated by crap. For every okay or good found footage horror flick, you’ll find 10 more that range from mediocre to unwatchable. The reason this subgenre is so ridiculously overpopulated is because these films are so damn easy to produce and don’t really require the filmmaking prowess that most traditional narrative features do. If the movie looks like amateur filmmaking, that’s because the dude holding the camera is just a character in the movie who’s recording what’s happening around him. Now, I actually dig on a number of found footage movies, some of which are hated. I was the one guy who liked APOLLO 18. However, there aren’t many nice things I can about THE GALLOWS, the latest found footage horror cheapie to hit theaters.
In 1993, Beatrice High School put on a play, The Gallows, that ended in a horrible tragedy. A prop malfunctioned and a student, Charlie, was killed on stage. Two decades after that tragic accident, someone at Beatrice High has decided that it would be a good idea to bring the play back for its twentieth anniversary. Enter Reese Houser. He’s a football player turned actor and isn’t very good at the latter. In a last-minute bit of desperation, Reese and two of his friends break into the school at night to trash the set…therefore halting any performances of the play and saving Reese the embarrassment of humiliating himself on stage. When drama nerd Pfeiffer arrives, things don’t look good for the trio of troublemakers, but that’s the least of their worries when they realize that they’re now locked in the school with the pissed off murderous ghost of Charlie.
If that brief plot synopsis didn’t give you an idea of what kind of characters populate THE GALLOWS, I’ll be blunt. These are poorly written high school stereotypes that don’t have a shred of likability in their bones. I realize that this movie is essentially a slasher done found footage style, but it helps if there’s at least one victim that you care about. These dumb teenagers also make rookie horror movie mistakes. For example, if you’re going to walk on a rickety catwalk, it might help to shine the flashlight/camera where you intend to walk…as opposed to just staring at the ground or your feet. Then again, that wouldn’t give us an excuse for the character to run headlong into a hanging corpse with a loud boom sound effect attached just in case the viewer didn’t know that a dead body hanging from a rope is supposed to be scary. Also, to give you an idea of the moronic magnitude of these characters, it doesn’t occur to one of them to pull the fire alarm to summon help until two people have been killed! I sort of just sat there with a bemused smirk on my face and was rooting for Charlie’s ghost to kill them as fast as possible.
However, fast isn’t something this movie does well. Despite running at 80 minutes, this film drags for an eternity. It takes a long while before anything remotely supernatural happens and once it does, it’s all of the been-there done-that found footage clichés. These including but not limited to the ever pressing question of why characters are still filming this, when they really have no reason or motivation to do so. To its credit, THE GALLOWS attempts to throw a couple of twists into its screenplay, but these only open plot holes that the film never recovers from. If there’s anything I can praise about this movie, it’s that the location is appropriately eerie and has a homegrown spooky feel to it. However, scary locations don’t make for scary movies as evidenced by CHERNOBYL DIARIES, THE PYRAMID, and AS ABOVE, SO BELOW.
As you might expect from any cheap horror flick, the scares are of the “loud noise and something suddenly popping out” variety. Plus the attempt to sell Charlie as a would-be iconic slasher is pretty lame. I know the marketing is mainly responsible for this, but he’s a ghost kid wearing a Scarecrow mask and carrying a noose. There are only so many ways that someone can be killed by a noose, so the kills are uninspired. I’m actually a bit surprised that this movie ended up with an R rating, because it feels far more geared towards teenagers terrified by the likes of OUIJA or THE LAZARUS EFFECT. There really isn’t much in the way of gore or intense violence, so maybe the MPAA just had it out for this film.
THE GALLOWS is far from the worst found footage movie I’ve ever seen (that belongs to CROWSNEST). It’s also not even the worst horror movie that I’ve seen this year (with crappy competition like HELLIONS and WOMAN IN BLACK 2). However, it’s about as generic and bland as its title. The real mystery about THE GALLOWS is how this film (funded on a mere $100,000) is somehow playing in theaters across the nation while so many better horror films get dumped into limited release or shoved onto VOD. THE GALLOWS should be something that people drunkenly stumble across on Netflix and not a movie that folks are paying hard-earned cash to see on the big screen. As far as found footage films go, you can do far better. I’m not even talking about the famous ones (BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY), but stuff like GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, THE BAY, UNFRIENDED, and (yes) APOLLO 18.