There is a moment in The Gallows when one of the main characters is staring into the camera, a red light illuminating the background and an eerie tension filling the atmosphere. Out of the darkness behind emerges a figure, which we know to be a vengeful spirit who is picking off our main kids because they’re… kids in a horror movie, I guess. But as this figure (essentially a hooded silhouette of a being) draws near, our protagonist (if you want to call her that) comes closer to the camera. She picks it up, holds in near to her face, and turns her head, showing us a gash that is intensifying, as if some kind of nonphysical noose has been tied around it.
When she pulls the camera away, we see the figure gone, but an physical noose around her neck. In an instant the camera drops (miraculously, it falls right-side up), and we see her being dragged down a hallway, kicking and screaming. A door opens, she is pulled through, and it shuts. Silence.
I’m not only describing this scene to you because it’s the best thing about The Gallows; I’m describing it to you because it’s the only good thing worth mentioning. The rest of it is pure filth, a putrid attempt to revitalize the found-footage genre by placing us inside a high-school in the overnight hours.
If that setting sounds creepy to you, that’s because it is. I’m surprised we haven’t gotten a horror movie set during the middle of the night in a school before this. Unfortunately, The Gallows does absolutely nothing to utilize this, making the events play out exactly like they would in, you guessed it, a horror movie.
The story follows a group of high-schoolers (Reese Mishler, Pheifer Brown, and Ryan Shoes, each actor with the same name of their characters in the film) who discover a broken door that leads to their school’s auditorium. They make plans to break into the school at night and trash the set of the upcoming stage play called ‘The Gallows.’ Why? Because this is the same play that the same school put on twenty years ago, and it’s the same play that caused a substitute actor his life when a hanging scene went tragically wrong.
Ryan, the school asshole (hopefully we weren’t actually supposed to sympathize with him when the ghost starts shredding through and gets to him), is the man behind the camera, following all of our main characters as they meet up, express an interest in not participating in the play, and brainstorming until they reach a plan that involves them wrecking the set overnight.
Reese wants out too, but he can’t let down Cassidy Spilker, the leader of the play and the one who has stolen his heart (she just doesn’t know it yet). Ryan, being the jerk with the camera, doesn’t hesitate to run right up to Cassidy and reveal the news to her, making it known that Reese wants a little something more than friends. I’m not sure if the writers intended to make this a jerky character that can also make you laugh, but if so, they failed. Ryan is just a jerk, and not one single person could possibly like him.
After the movie takes its sweet time turning wheels and applying oil to the gears, the main events set in motion. Unfortunately, these gears don’t seem to have much oil on them at all, as the majority of the events that come after are clichéd, contrived, uninteresting, lacking intensity, and simply not scary. I’m just baffled that these filmmakers have managed to make a “scary movie” set inside a deserted schoolhouse (a setting ripe for horror), and have it made it so un-scary. Even more so, I’m baffled that they made the central villain a spirit of a teen who died by hanging in an old school play a now dark and dreary hooded figure who stalks these modern teens at night after locking them inside… and has made him so un-scary.
I’ll give the movie this. The third act does pick up a little, with a few creep-out moments, one in particular which involves two characters having to crouch underneath a hanging ventilation tube only to find a few hanging bodies on the other side.
But even those moments aren’t scary, and the movie ends up being an endless pileup of meaningless scenes mixed with stupid characters and horrible decision making tactics. At one point early on, Reese asks Ryan why he’s filming. Ryan doesn’t answer. In a later scene, Ryan finds a window to escape, but he realizes he has to climb up to get to it. So, even while acknowledging that he is being chased by a revenge-filled spirit and he’s just found a means of escape, he still prioritizes setting the camera down at an angle that perfectly captures him and his attempt to make the climb. It just doesn’t make sense.
And speaking of not making sense, the concluding twist of The Gallows is awful. A guy in my theater audibly expressed his frustration, and to be honest, I didn’t care. I laughed, because he perfectly summed up what I wanted to say. This movie, and its ending, sucks.
If you want to watch a recent horror movie that has its characters make poor choices and walk down strange corridors that resemble a maze to hell itself, don’t make it this one. I can recommend As Above/So Below, which has a similar claustrophobic feel to it (and much more effective, I might add), but here’s a sad truth: I would rather sit through The Pyramid again than watch this crapfest.
1 hr. 21 mins.
Rated R for some disurbing violent content and terror
Starring Reese Misher, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford
Written and directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing