Review: The Gallows

The premise for The Gallows – four teenagers trapped in the school auditorium being haunted by the ghost of an old student – isn’t bad. However, the film’s execution leaves a lot to be desired.

The Gallows focuses on four characters that fit the conventional stereotypes for any horror movie. There’s Ryan (Ryan Shoos), the cool kid that dates the “hot girl” and thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. He’s also a bully that spends the first 20 minutes picking on stage hands and trash talking random people. As obnoxious as Ryan is, he’s easily the most believable character. I swear Ryan Shoos was born in the wrong decade, he really missed his calling as an 80’s movie villain. There’s Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford, daughter of Kathy Lee and Frank Gifford), the aforementioned “hot girl” who dates Ryan. She’s the girl who looks old enough to be in college but we’re supposed to believe she’s in high school. She’s also character does everything in her power to be annoying at the absolute worst times. Pfeiffer (Pfeifer Brown) is the “nerdy girl” who is very attractive but she wears unflattering clothes, a ponytail, and talks strange, so guy’s don’t like her. Finally we have Reese (Reese Mishler), the jock with the heart of gold. He’s breaking down traditional jock stereotypes and is a friend to the unfriended. He also has a crush on the nerdy girl but he’s too shy to say anything.

None of those stereotypes are believable but it’s necessary to dumb down these kids so you can slaughter them later without feeling guilty. I totally get it.

The Gallows opens with some cheesy “Police Evidence” title card as the movie starts.  Can we stop with these title cards before found footage movies? Everyone knows this is a movie and didn’t really happen. Once we get past the whole “based on a true story” nonsense, the film opens in 1993 with someone taping a high school play called The Gallows. During the play’s pivotal hangman scene, there’s a malfunction and a student named Charlie Grimille is killed.

Fast forward twenty years later, and the school’s decided to honor the tragedy by bringing The Gallows back. Ryan is taping the play rehearsals, Pfeifer and Reese are the two leads, and Cassidy is hanging around because she’s Ryan’s girlfriend. Since Reese is a terrible actor, and only doing the play because of his secret crush on Pfeifer, Ryan cooks up a plan to break-in after hours and destroy the stage set in hopes of ending the plays production. Ryan’s pitch: Reese would get out of the play and Pfeifer would have his shoulder to cry on.  It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Not so fast horny teenagers.

Reese agrees to Ryan’s plan and is joined at the school by Ryan and Cassidy. During the break-in, they find out the auditorium’s lights aren’t working.  This would be a clear sign for to leave but noooooooooo, these kids have to finish what they’ve started. If there is one thing that plagues found-footage films, it’s their bizarre reasoning for why someone is filming while people are dying around them. The Gallows’ remedies this with the auditorium light problem. The group uses their cameras for light, so they’re always on – that’s the smartest thing the film does.

The trio hears a bunch of strange noises that lead them to find Pfeifer. Apparently she likes to show up at the school late at night as well. Shortly after Pfeifer’s arrival, the gang realizes they are not alone. They quickly try to leave, but every door in the building is locked. The group must find a way out and survive attacks from a ghost they believe is the spirit of Charlie.

The Gallows is a predictable as the stereotypes that populate it. But surprisingly, that’s not the biggest problem. The film’s inability to make you care about any of its characters (Ryan is incredibly unlikable), provide any horror besides cheap jump scares, and a finale that will make you roll your eyes until you pass out, are what drag the film down.

There isn’t one genuine scary moment during the entire film. Not one.  It’s a constant cycle of shaky cam, yelling, and deafening quiet followed by loud noises, over and over again. Plus Charlie isn’t even a menacing villain. He pops up a few times, but is mostly an invisible force that throws people around and hides cell phones in lockers. There are few things scarier than your phone locked in a locker and you can’t get to it. I’m getting shivers just thinking about it.

It’s impossible to like any of the characters. They’re so annoying and dumb; it makes you cheer for Charlie. I realize the group leaving each other alone is a plot device to get people killed, but c’mon. You would leave your friend alone after you were lifted off the ground by an invisible noose? Nobody is THAT dumb.  I could write 1,000 words on how these kids stumble through the film like it’s their first day in acting class. It felt like watching an MTV Movie Awards parody. I’m not kidding. During the film’s atrocious final scene, it’s unclear if the kids are crying or laughing. I’m still only 80% sure they were crying.

Speaking of the ending, I’m not sure how someone thought that would be a good payoff after watching people run in circles for an hour.  If people don’t laugh out loud, they might spike your $7 drink out of anger. The only thing I could think of was Switch pleading, “Not like this….not like this.”

Switch - Not Like This

What’s truly bad about The Gallows is its wasted opportunity. A school at night is the perfect setting for a horror film. Facilities that are usually full look creepy when they’re empty.  If you throw in a few more characters, turn the school into a haunted maze, add a badass killer, and show some brutal kills – you’ve got yourself a found footage film worth seeing.

Instead, we’re stuck with a movie that doesn’t try anything new and the old stuff fails to generate anything more than chuckles. I know this isn’t the end of found-footage horror films, but I hope we’ve reached a point where they start getting batter.

Grade: F