Superstitions surrounding the theater are plentiful, from swapping out “good luck” for “Break a leg!” to never speaking the name of the Scottish Play within the theater itself. Most local theaters, even high school ones, have ghost stories floating around; playing with this idea seems promising, as found footage horror like The Gallows goes. Found footage horror has a tendency to be either be very good or VERY bad, and it grieves me to say that this is definitely the latter.
“The Gallows” was a play put on at Beatrice High School some twenty years ago, ending with an ill-fated scene where the lead, played by the understudy Charlie, was actually hung on stage. (Nobody ever addresses that actual live shows have about a billion things they do to ensure this kind of thing never happens.) In the present day, the high school is putting the same show on again, and cast as the leads are Reese (Reese Mishler), and the girl he’s crushing on, Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Reese’s best friend Ryan the asshole (Ryan Shoos) suggests they break into the school at night to tear down the set, ruining the show and thus saving Reese the embarrassment of not knowing his lines. Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) tags along for the vandalism, and once inside, things go horribly awry.
The biggest issue here is that the movie seems to have no point other than to be spooky, but then it doesn’t even bother with the spookiness for the entire first third of the movie. Most horror movies seem to be driving towards something, which is built up throughout the film and then crystallized in its climax. Even if that something is as simple or as basic as, hey, parents love their kids! usually there’s something going on beneath the surface. The Gallows doesn’t bother. It’s all surface content: what you see is what you get. As a result, the movie has a few effective jump scares, but even those are predictable (fyi, guys, you’re holding those still moments right before the jump scares a beat too long,) and is otherwise boring. I was actually checking my watch while the movie was running.
Movies with thin plots can usually get by on the charisma of their characters, if we’re invested in them, but these characters are tragically shallow. Reese is a good dude and awkward teenager, Ryan is a raging asshole, Cassidy is Ryan’s girlfriend, and Pfeifer is the gal who wants the show to go on, and Reese’s crush. With the exception of one or two reveals during the course of the film, ta da, you know now everything that’s relevant about these characters. You have no reason to care about them because they’re incredibly one-dimensional. The actors just can’t rise above this kind of lazy writing, but god love ‘em, they tried.
Found footage horror faces a few unique challenges: mainly, the justification for the camera not only being there in the first place, but happening to be angled in a way that lets you see what you’re seeing. Smart movies like As Above, So Below get away with this by making their mission one of academic exploration in need of evidence, attaching the cameras to helmets so we’re very definitely seeing from someone’s perspective. Lazier films have some douchenozzle carrying a camera around more or less just because, and The Gallows falls so squarely into this category it’s absurd. It even switches between cell phone camera footage and handheld camera footage (maybe the kid has a GoPro, who knows?), because it is so narratively contrived that it can’t even be bothered to tell its story on one camera. Hey guys, hello? You’re making a found footage movie here. This video that we’re seeing? It’s diegetic. That means that somebody in this world, somewhere, took the time to cut together the found cell phone footage and the found handheld cam footage in chronological order. Why would they do that? Who did it? No explanation? Okay, cool. Sure.
The cherry on top of this found footage disaster is the narrative twist at the end, which would have been a fine twist had they ended it after the reveal, rather than rubbing your nose in it directly afterwards. The movie wants to be so sure you didn’t miss what happened that it feels the need to needlessly emphasize it in an incredibly stupid scene that feels borderline nonsensical, insulting both your intelligence and its own writing. It even switches to YET ANOTHER CAMERA for the end here, bringing us to a total of… five, I think? Maybe six? Six different cameras whose footage was cut together.
I’ll be concise: this movie is a waste of time. You probably know somebody in film school right now who’s made a better flick than this. Looking for your horror fix? Go to Netflix. Hell, go watch Insidious: Chapter 3. If you simply want to kill two hours doing something mildly fun, may I suggest paper airplanes?Liked This? Share It!