Here’s your review in a nutshell: Please don’t go see The Gallows. Please. As someone who passionately, deeply loves movies, especially horror movies, and laments that not nearly enough genre offerings actually land a theatrical release: I beg of you, please don’t go see The Gallows. If this movie makes any money—god forbid it makes its budget back—it will only condone more lazy, worthless tripe like this, cranked out quick and on the cheap, existing only because it can make money. Please.
The Gallows is more antagonistic prank than found footage horror film—as if someone set out to chronicle every last criticism anyone has ever levied at the sub-genre and purposely made a movie out of only those elements. There is nothing here to recommend. There’s a single legitimate jump scare—seriously: one—and that is arguably the only redeeming moment of the movie’s entire 81 minutes.
In an attempt at “realism” that is really just a lack of inspiration or original thought, the names of The Gallows’ four main characters are just the names of the actors who play them. Reese (Reese Mishler) is a jock who quit the football team to take drama because he likes a drama nerd, Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Reese has a dickhead best friend, Ryan Shoos (Ryan Shoos), who just so happens to film every single thing that ever happens and has a stereotypical blond cheerleader girlfriend, Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford, daughter of Kathie Lee).
Reese is a terrible actor who somehow landed the lead in the school’s latest theater production, which just so happens to be the same play where, back in 1993, a kid named Charlie was accidentally hanged—or was it an accident? This is a notorious tragedy in their small Nebraska town, so of course it’s a good idea to stage the whole thing again, exactly like before. When Reese, Ryan and Cassidy break into the school to trash the set and stop the play, they encounter Pfeifer, and then spooky stuff happens—like lockers open, doors that are supposed to be unlocked are locked, they have no cell reception—and then it takes absolutely no imagination to figure out where things go from there.
Not only is its plot wholly predictable, The Gallows is boring as hell. In fact, Hell would probably be a lot more fun to endure than this film. The first 20 minutes of the, again, 81-minute slog is spent on set up, repeatedly defining the only defining character trait of each character—which, if you missed them (you won’t): Reese wants to bone Pfeifer, Pfeifer really wants to stage this play, Ryan is a jackass who torments nerds, and Cassidy is a cheerleader. At best, you don’t care if they survive; at worst, you can’t even root for them to die elaborately because that would too tax the brains of the filmmakers.
The gang stumbles through one horror trope after another, each more tedious than the last. They discover a secret hallway; they split up for no reason; they find a convenient photograph that illuminates the shocking backstory that is never really mentioned again; there’s a “twist” that is obvious from the first moment. The movie’s ambiance is a mess of ominous tones, dim hallways illuminated just enough for you to see the spooky thing lurking in the background that no one else notices, while cameras roll in situations where no one would ever possibly film anything. Who films while climbing a ladder? Sometimes they need it a camera for light, sometimes the film cuts back and forth between a camera and a cellphone that has night vision, but perspective changes hands so often and so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to figure out who’s holding what.
The Gallows is a movie where the characters learn the hard way that some things—spirits, legends, murder, high school theater productions—are better left alone. Take heed, viewer. If you’re out in a forest and you see an angry animal or a plant covered in sharp, prickly thorns, the signs are all there and you should pay attention to the indicators. Leave well enough alone. Approach The Gallows similarly: Just back away slowly and leave it be.
Directors: Travis Cluff, Cliff Loffing
Writer: Travis Cluff, Cliff Loffing
Starring: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford
Release Date: July 10, 2015