If it ever seems like we’ve seen the last of the found footage genre, there is always someone out there who thinks they’ve got a unique story to reinvigorate the format. While some have been entertaining, most of them are repetitive and stale. The ability to convey fear is hindered by the character’s ability to hold the camera straight. The best scares are the usual cattle prods of noise piercing a long moment of silence and accompany an image or figure appearing out of nowhere. A device used by any horror film, but it’s unfortunately the only card in the found footage deck. You have to be creative and make it convincing as to why our characters would have a camera running practically non-stop. Sometimes that creativity pays off and other times it leaves you rolling your eyes.
In The Gallows, directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Ryan (Ryan Shoos) is a high school student tasked as the drama club’s videographer. He takes quirky shots of his friends and quips juvenile remarks at their expense. His friend Reese (Reese Houser) is starring in the lead role of The Gallows, a play not performed in 20 years following a tragic accident that kills a teenager named Charlie. A student named Pfeifer (Pfiefer Brown) decides to revive the play and commemorate its last performance, strange as that sounds. Reese is beyond nervous about his ability to perform and is afraid of embarrassing himself in front of the school and his leading lady Pfeifer. Ryan conjures up a terrible idea and with the help of both his girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford), and Reese, they sneak into the school at night to trash the set so the school will be forced to cancel the play. Unfortunately for them a mysterious, supernatural force traps them, along with Pfeifer, in the school. They now must do whatever it takes to stay alive and find a way out.
The movie suffers from very little story, but that’s because the characters are given no dialogue to further it along, other than slightly explaining who the killer may be. Instead we are left moving about the school auditorium and several hidden hallways uncovering clues that are nothing more than creepy set pieces that have nothing to do with the plot.
I’m still trying to sort out whether they intended the bad guy to be a ghost or a serial killer and settled on some confusing combination. In one scene you have a secret room with a collection of outfits and shoes. A living serial killer I could understand doing this, but a ghost of some dead teenager from twenty years ago doing this makes no sense. Also a ghost that waited twenty years to do anything is even weirder. They could have mentioned mysterious things happening on the anniversary of Charlie’s death every year, but no that’s more story than they can muster up. It’s the only major and glaring problem I have with the premise because the rest of the film is standard teenagers-in-peril fodder. Predictable as it may be, it does have a scare or two worth mentioning.
You don’t feel much for these characters at first and hardly at all when their lives are in danger. They had intended to trash a play that several students worked hard on without any consideration. Their personalities are next to non-existent and what they do have comes off obnoxious at best. We are to believe this is found footage and what these kids are experiencing did happen. It could have been nice if one of these characters rationally contemplated the situation they were in, rather than yelling near the camera or just whimpering until their inevitable demise.
The Gallows is a typical, unoriginal found footage horror film. The ghost character is frightening to a certain extent, but the story is so thin you aren’t sure of its motivations until the very end; and by then it really doesn’t matter. The last few minutes of the film are unnecessary and ridiculous. When you see it, you’ll probably guess they intend to perhaps make this a franchise. The story would have made a terrific short film and could have been added to a compilation movie a la V/H/S. It’s also remarkably similar to other films like Grave Encounters, which carried the idea of a powerful, supernatural entity in a much more engaging way. The main actors are alright, but their characters don’t make believable, real-life teenagers. Granted naïve teenagers can make a bad horror movie fun, but once you use up that concept you’re left with dull scenes of panic and poor decisions. Let’s hope The Gallows does us a favor and remains dormant for another twenty years.
THE GALLOWS:[usr 2]
About The Gallows
Synopsis: 20 years after a horrific accident during a small town school play, students at the school resurrect the failed show in a misguided attempt to honor the anniversary of the tragedy – but soon discover that some things are better left alone.
Directors: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Writers: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Stars: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford
Runtime: 81 Minutes