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the gallows

“The Gallows” is a found footage horror film distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures with a budget of reportedly $100,000 – I think that figure is very relevant when reviewing this film, because it explains everything that’s wrong with the horror genre. On such a small budget it’s obviously going to be difficult to make a movie that has any real substance, because you can’t really capitalise on CGI and you’re going to have to shoot in a limited number of locations. However, if the filmmakers are passionate then they should do their best to be inventive with their premise and make the movie fun, using atmospheric lighting, nerve-jangling music and creative jump scares. Alas, “The Gallows” isn’t fun. It isn’t inventive. In fact, it’s barely even a film – it’s more like a home movie you might make on Halloween. It’s just awful, and the worst thing about it is that it has made a really good profit – people have sat through this film and paid the ticket price, encouraging those who made and distributed it to do the same thing again, which they undoubtedly will.

The premise isn’t actually that bad, in fact, it was one of the things that caught my interest and enticed me to see the movie (along with the trailer). The story focuses on a school play at Beatrice High School which shares the movie’s title, taking place twenty years after that same play was performed at the school with tragic consequences. During the original production a fatal accident took place which ended the life of Charlie (Jesse Cross), a student at the school who was playing the leading man but had initially been cast as the hangman.

In the modern day, Reese Houser (Reese Mishler) is playing the same character that Charlie did in the original play in an effort to impress Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown), the student playing the female lead. His acting is terrible (both in the fictional play and in reality) so when his best friend and all-round idiot Ryan (Ryan Shoos) suggests that they trash the set after school in order to spare his embarrassment, he gives in and agrees. Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) tags along to act as another viable victim and eye candy, and that’s the foundation of the film.

The plot definitely isn’t as solid as it could’ve been, and it does feel like it has been lazily put together, but there’s potential there. The problem is that Reese doesn’t come across as a horrible person like Ryan, nor does he seem stupid, so why he would go along with the plan is beyond me. I know this is a horror film and logic is usually thrown out of the window, but I don’t believe for a second that Reese would’ve gone with that plan when there were plenty of better options that didn’t lead to vandalism.

Fast forward ten minutes and the trio bump into Pfeifer, who for some godforsaken reason is lurking around in the school, alone, in the dark. Obviously they panic because they’ve been trashing the stage (loudly might I add) and they don’t want to get caught, but only once is her reason for being there questioned. From the moment I saw her the alarm bells were ringing, because her excuse for being at the school was that she saw Reese’s car outside, but for that excuse to work she had to already be in the surrounding area and get into the school from either the same entrance (without a light, because our protagonists had to use their camera light to navigate the blackened hallways) or have been in the school already. It doesn’t matter which one, but seeing as the school was closed you have to assume that either she hid somewhere to stay in the school (which is a bit odd) or she entered through the same door and was roaming around in the dark for no apparent reason. Either way she’s clearly not all there and it’s time to go home.

Another unrelated problem I had with this scene was that Ryan and Cassidy were fixing the stage in an effort to hide their wrongdoing, which they could probably have done in the space of five minutes, yet they thought that the mess they had made would stop the production the following day. I know that the characters weren’t the school’s best and brightest, but their plan was to trash the stage so that performing the play was out of the question, yet there was a full drama class that would have half a day to fix what two people could in moments. Yes, there was probably more wreckage to come if Pfeifer didn’t show up, but enough to stop the play? Really?

After Pfeiffer joins the Mystery Gang they aimlessly wander the school in search of an exit (because the door they entered through has mysteriously locked itself – how original), only to be chased down by what appears to be the ghost of Charlie, who wants revenge on Reese because his dad was the student who called in sick twenty years before, which led to his playing the leading man and in turn his death. Personally I think this is a pretty dumb reason for a ghost to want to kill someone and I don’t think it’s particularly smart storytelling. Why didn’t Charlie just turn up and kill Reese during drama class? Why did he need privacy to do it? It’s not as if he could be caught and put on trial – why do ghosts always want to get revenge when no one else is looking?

Another problem I have with this story is that during the final scene Charlie’s ghost appears in what I think is a house that is unattached to the school, meaning that his spirit isn’t tied to the place where he died. I’m not complaining about this because I think ghosts have to be confined to one particular place, after all, they’re a work of fiction so they can be tied to whatever laws the writers want them to be. My problem is that if Charlie can go anywhere he wants, he really doesn’t need to wait until Reese comes to the school to kill him. He could just as easily have wandered into the Houser household and killed the person who was the actual source of his frustration. I’d love to hear what the writers have to say about that, because from where I’m standing it seems like a pretty obvious flaw in the narrative, and it’s one clear reason why most people who write horror stories have their supernatural entities tied to one particular object or setting.

If I continue picking holes in the story I will have to reveal every minute detail, because this movie is inherently flawed and I could take issue with every scene, so I’m going to stop now and consider the broader issues the film has.

One of the biggest problems with the film is its found footage nature – I’m not a fan of found footage as I’ve said before, but it can work, just take “Paranormal Activity” as an example. This film’s found footage framing fails because the use of the camera is ridiculous – it makes no sense why Ryan would bring a camera to the school in the first place given that he knew that the plan was to break the law! Why would Ryan film something that he knew could incriminate both himself and his friends? Why didn’t Reese pick up on that problem when he clearly has a few more brain cells than Ryan? The camera at least has a purpose once they are there because it acts as a light, but it should never have been brought in the first place and we don’t really get a sense of why it was being used to film the play either. As is so often the case, the use of found footage in this film is a cheap device used by the filmmakers to make more money, not a way of making the movie more interesting.

The main cast have the same first names as their characters, which at first I thought was quite novel, but having seen the film I have to wonder if this was done because the actors only respond to their own names. The acting was absolutely atrocious – Reese Mishler only had one move, he opened his eyes really wide when something scary was happening and slowly looked off into the distance. None of his reactions were genuine and he showed no real emotion. Ryan Shoos was playing an obnoxious football player and to be fair he pulled off the obnoxious part, but beyond that he was pretty woeful. Pfeifer Brown and Cassidy Gifford were the best of a bad bunch, but they were still awful. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is terrible, and I wonder whether the directors simply said ‘act scared’, because a lot of the things that the characters said were repeated over and over and seemed improvised.

“The Gallows” is one of the worst movies ever made, and one of the most boring horror movies of all time. There are no redeeming qualities to speak of, no genuine scares, and it isn’t even bad in such a way that you can laugh at it. It’s just completely boring, so much so that I nearly fell asleep at one point, and one of the people I was with actually did (bear in mind that it was about 5pm). Please don’t see this movie, it isn’t worth your time or your money and you’re only encouraging the filmmakers to make the same rubbish again.

1/10

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