By Mark Saldana
Rating: 1.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
This latest entry in found footage horror portrays a group of teens on the set of a high school play tormented by a malevolent force. The premise is simple and could have made for a fun and scary experience. Unfortunately, that is not the case with The Gallows. Among the annoying and unfunny douchebaggery of “camera operator” Ryan (Ryan Shoos) and the lack of any solid suspense building or effective scares, the entire experience is rather dull, uninspired, and moronic. Historically, the imagery of the gallows was intended as a crime deterrent. In the case of The Gallows movie, the title should serve as a deterrent from buying movie tickets.
To honor the 20th anniversary of a tragic accident that astonished the audience and cast of a high school play, the drama class of Beatrice High School have decided to once again stage that very same play. The day before opening night, lead actress Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown) cannot contain her excitement, but her co-lead Reese Houser (Reese Mishler) is petrified. His buddy Ryan (Shoos), the irritating camera operator capturing footage of the production and behind the scenes, suggests that they sabotage the play by destroying the set. Desperate to avoid embarrassing himself on the stage, Reese reluctantly joins Ryan and Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) to vandalize the stage. Unbeknowst to them, though, someone or something is waiting for them in the shadows.
Written and directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, The Gallows is one of those movies that makes me dislike the found footage style of filmmaking. For a while now, I’ve had mixed feelings when it comes to this approach of storytelling. It started off as an imaginative and effective gimmick, but now, thanks to overuse, often comes across as stale. I am not totally against it, because there have been some solid films which employ its use well (The Last Exorcism). However, when horror filmmakers have nothing else dynamic to offer in a movie, all the shaky handheld cinematography in the world will not make their film any better.
In fact because the cinematography is often jarring and rarely smooth, those who suffer from motion sickness probably won’t be able to bear it. It seems like the directors and cinematographer Edd Lukas went to painstaking efforts to rattle the camera as often as they could. I, too, felt a little uncomfortable with the photography, or lack thereof, in the movie. Still, as distracting as it was, it couldn’t distract from the fact that the writing and directing had so little to offer.
The story is a run-of-the-mill haunting bedtime/campfire story. It offers audiences nothing original, and everything pretty much plays out as expected. However, the filmmakers really could have put some effort in building suspense and delivering effective frights. I can honestly say that I only recall one scene that actually made me jump and tense in fear. In gauging audience responses, I did hear a few screams and yelps, but not as many as I am accustomed to hearing at a horror screening.
Despite the bland and often silly writing, the actors all perform very well. The cast probably is the only aspect of the movie that held my interest. I will say that making the Ryan character the supposed cinematographer of the movie is a huge mistake. I realize his character is supposed to be aggravating, but it gets to the point where I really wish someone more likable is behind the camera. Kudos to Ryan Shoos for delivering a solid performance, but a character that frustrating should never have been tasked with narrating and carrying so much of the film.
So with an already bothersome presentation, The Gallows grows even more unpalatable with an exasperating character supposedly operating the camera and offering moronic commentary. The fact that the movie mostly fails as horror entertainment definitely makes this a film everyone should skip. I think even the most diligent horror fans should not waste their time.