Posted July 12, 2015 by Daniel Hodgson in
With rare exception, found footage movies are pretty much all the same. The Blair Witch Project was “the one in the woods,” Paranormal Activity was “the one in the suburban home,” and Cloverfield was “the one in New York City.” Each has a unique monster, a witch, a demon, a Godzilla-monster, respectively. But in terms of narrative trajectory, these details are irrelevant. No matter where it takes place, no matter what the monster is, the footage must be lost in order for it to be found, and for that to happen, the person holding the camera must die.
And now we have The Gallows, which is “the one in the high school.” The monster in this one is a vengeful spirit, garbed as a hangman. Midway through, I excused myself from the theater briefly because nothing I would miss would make any difference; the film’s ending was inevitable from the limited mechanics of the genre…or so I thought.
The Gallows opens with 1993 VHS footage of a high school play bearing the same name of the film. The play ends in a fatal accident, with a student, Charlie, hung by the neck right in front of a live audience.
The opening is found footage done right, having a motivation for the camera to record the events. The rest is not. What The Gallows lacks is the premise for a found footage movie; a reason for the videographer, Ryan (Ryan), to record anything other than the play, which the school has decided to complete 20 years later.
Reese (Reese Michler) stars in the play, a jock who dropped the football team for drama club so that he could get close to his co-star Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Ryan points out what a terrible actor Reese is, and convinces him that they should break into the school and trash the stage so that he wouldn’t have to go on. Ryan’s cheerleader girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) tags along.
After committing the misdeed, the young vandals, along with Pfeifer, find themselves trapped in the school, which they soon discover is haunted.
The Gallows is, as you would expect from a found footage film, little more than a jump-scare machine. To its credit, it doesn’t have too many of them, and a couple of them are effective. However, jump scares aren’t actually scary. There is a difference between being startled and being terrified. The Gallows is occasionally creepy, owing to set design and lighting, but stops well short of terrifying.
The camera-work doesn’t always work. There is a moment where Reese embraces a scared Pfeifer while holding his smartphone, which provides some of the film’s footage, as if he were taking a selfie. No way. No one is going to hold their phone like that, especially when a ghost with a noose is chasing you.
But I have to admit that the conclusion caught me off-guard. It’s a weird ending, yet fitting and unexpected. To put in on the found footage scale, it’s no [REC], but at least it’s marginally better than Unfriended. Not that that’s saying much.