The Gallows (15) | Close-Up Film Review
Dir. Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, USA, 2015, 81 mins
Cast: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford
Filming Reese’s humiliation – and all the backstage hijinks – is Ryan (Ryan Shoos), who interviews people watching the rehearsals and learns that there are stories of funny noises, slamming doors and lights turning off; the legend says that that poor kid actor who died, Charlie, is still haunting the theater.
Ryan dismisses all that guff though, and when Reese lets it slip that he only did this play because he has a crush on Pfeifer, Ryan suggests they come back later to trash the stage: no play, no acting humiliation, and a distraught Pfeifer will surely fall into Reese’s manly arms – right?
Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) insists on coming along too, and so that night they return through the permanently-broken back door and start knocking over fake plants, breaking props and dismantling the gallows with a drill. But then there’s a strange noise – Charlie? No.
A suspicious Pfeifer is there too (she saw Reese’s car outside), but then they do see something scary. Very scary indeed. The gallows is reassembled, the noose is back in place, and the back door is locked tight..…
For a film that was done on a tiny, independent budget as a kind of local project and then picked up for distribution later, The Gallows certainly delivers it’s fair number of old school creaking door shocks and heart-stopping moments, and often brings to mind The Blair Witch Project – but at just over 80 mins, it barely stops for breath.
Based around the “found footage” idea – in this case Ryan’s video camera and the cell phone cameras of a couple of the teens – this manages to give more life to an exhausted technique as it allows for some video flashbacks and (more importantly) means that, for nearly the entire film, the only light is coming from these devices.
That of course means lots of dark corners, lots of shadows and lots of places for something (or someone to hide), though they don’t go for the repetitive “did you see that?” scare tactic here; instead the sense of dread is really ratcheted up until, inevitably, they started being picked off as they run through (and get separated from each other) in what seems, certainly in the dark, the creepiest inner workings, basement, chaotic offices and back corridors of a place Freddy Krueger would be happy to hang out in.
There are quibbles of course: why on earth would a school ever again mount a play with such horrific associations? And the end sequence is perhaps too cheesy and a little off-tone for what’s gone before, but nevertheless it all holds together well, there are a couple of thoughtful reveals, the four actors all seem more than mere chum, and it certainly had me watching with my hands ready to cover my eyes….
Review by James Bartlett
Have a read of Dan Woburn’s take on the film….
The Gallows is the latest in a long line of low-budget horror bundles from producer extraordinaire Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity¸Sinister, Insidious, The Purge – see what I mean?), guaranteed to have a solid premise and a few good scares not only at a small cost for the studio but also with guaranteed wide profit margins.
Coming from writer-director duo Travis Cluff & Chris Lofing, this simple-yet-effective horror offers us an original premise in a tired format, as found footage is once again used to maintain a 15 rating and defy storytelling logic. You’ll literally lift your hands in exasperation as one guy continues to record whilst also attempting to escape from a ghost by climbing a ladder in a hurry. It’s hard enough to climb a ladder with one hand anyway, let alone when you’re running away from a malevolent spirit. Of course, it’s slightly explainable due to the camera having not only night vision but a torch too; yet, if you’re trying to save battery for said torch, continuously recording isn’t going to help either. Defied logic aside, the film remains good, freaky fun.
The plot revolves around a high school stage play called “The Gallows” (ding) being redone in the present day after having gone horrifically wrong in 1993, where a young boy named Charlie died after said gallows he was to pretend to be hanged from actually hanged him. The camera in the present day is held by douchebag jock Ryan (Shoos), who wants to help his jock friend Reese (Mishler) escape having to perform the main part in the play (the same part played by Charlie some years previous) by tearing down the set after hours. Reese has his own reasons for not wanting to be in the play, namely 1) because he sucks and 2) because he has a crush on his character’s paramour – or rather, the cute drama nerd playing her, Pfeifer (Brown). The boys’ backwards logic is that Ryan can’t disappoint her if the play doesn’t happen at all. Joined by Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Gifford), sure enough, they break into the school one night to commit a crime that for some reason Ryan feels fit to capture on videotape so that he later can’t rely on it in court… sigh.
Either way, after a set-up that’s perhaps a little too prolonged (come on guys… we’re only here for one reason), the creep factor sets in, and every corner turned or wide shot of a dark corridor is ripe for a scare, jump- or otherwise. Needless to say it’s the pissed-off ghost of Charlie doing the scaring – that much should be clear almost from the off. Somewhere along the way Pfeifer also turns up at the school (because, of course). The fun comes from these silly characters getting freaked the f*ck out, and one brilliant comeuppance for one considering he was pretty much a horrible person from start to finish.
As always, when it comes to a Blumhouse production, the mythology of the film is one of its greatest features. The premise here is entirely original and far more chilling somehow because of it. The slow unravelling of the mystery of Charlie’s death and these present-day characters’ involvement is meted out expertly, at a good clip. The ending especially is one of those “ah-I-should-have-known” twists and is one of the creepiest endings for a horror film in recent memory. The ghost is an effective menace, executioner’s hood making for a suitably terrifying visage. The deaths here are inventive and will have you writhing in your seat.
All in all, come for the decent scares, stay for the intriguing mystery and haunting mythology, and leave trying to forget the terrible characters and only-okay-ish acting. I’m strangely up for a sequel.
Review by Dan Woburn