The biggest problem with the found footage genre is that it is likely never to truly fade away. This is because it’s all a numbers game. Any Hollywood studio could make these movies for virtually pennies – or at least what Hollywood considers pennies – and regardless of whether or not the movie connects with critics or audiences, enough people will have put forth enough money for it to turn a profit by its opening weekend. That is the fate that awaits The Gallows, a formulaic and instantly forgettable rehash of almost every horror cliché since The Blair Witch Project that exists solely to make a quick buck. To say that the film is awful is about as redundant as the film is, so why bother.
Horror fans are truly the most forgiving of filmgoers. No matter how bad a horror film looks, most fans, myself included, will watch it in hopes of being surprised to discover a new gem they can start spreading through word of mouth. And because of this hope, The Gallows will certainly prove to be a profitable venture for its producers. There is barely a modicum of original thought being put into this film, and the fact that the movie is barely 80 minutes long yet feels tedious and exhausting to sit through is a testament to the fact that it’s basically a cash grab.
The movie opens in 1993, with found footage of someone filming a school play called “The Gallows.” During this play, a prop malfunction causes the death of one of the teenage actors who had a noose around his neck. Fast forward twenty years later and “The Gallows” is inexplicably being put on again by the same school with a new set of actors. How a school would approve the resurrection of such a play is a question you will be left to ponder because the script isn’t going to go through the trouble of explaining it to you. Nevertheless, the film’s main camera operator is a cookie cutter “please die in a horrible way” character named Ryan (Ryan Shoos). For the first fifteen minutes, Ryan goes about bullying fellow students, girls, teachers, and school employees, which does little but establish him as the most unlikeable character of any film I’ve seen this year. For some unknown reason, he is able to have a beautiful, wholly submissive girlfriend named Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford), and friend named Reese (Reese Mishler). Reese is trying to move from playing football to acting, most likely to impress his crush Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown), who is the lead actress in the play. Soon enough, Ryan convinces Reese and Cassidy to break into the school and destroy the set simply because Ryan thinks Reese is a bad actor and would ruin the play if he were to actually perform in it. So he decides to literally ruin the play, but not before some demonic presence locks them in the school for the night.
Yet, as lame as the film’s narrative is, it’s the film’s sad attempts at scaring the audience that puts the film completely to shame. In typical Hollywood fashion, the film uses false jump scares where the audio is suddenly ramped up to level 10 during a period of dead silence to focus on a person or inanimate object moving into the frame. These false jump scares are so frequent and predictably timed that you could easily become bored by the 30 minute mark. There is one scene that is actually well shot, well lit, and quite creepy; the only problem with this scene is that it’s already been spoiled for you in the trailer and the posters promoting the film. This must be the same marketing team that worked on Terminator Genisys. On top of that, the setting is less in a high school and more around hidden passageways or corridors that lead to more areas. It’s incredibly difficult to tell where any of the characters are in the building, or how they are able to always run to someone’s aid seemingly out of nowhere.
Of course, you care for none of these characters. Yes, the acting is bad. But I can’t quite blame the actors because they have nothing to work with. They have to speak horribly written and unrealistic dialogue. They also look lost throughout the entire film, which is a result of bad direction on top of emotional disconnection to the scene. Thus, if the actors can’t sell the story, then the audience can’t care about it. Such is the case with The Gallows.
There have been some great horror films in 2015 like The Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, It Follows, and Unfriended. But there’s also been crap like The Lazarus Effect, Poltergeist, Area 51, Muck, and The Human Centipede 3. The Gallows belongs squarely in the latter camp. It’s poorly written, under directed, amateurly acted, and predictable where it should be scary. But in the end it doesn’t really matter what you and I think because the movie will do its job, which is to make its producers slightly richer than they already are.