Movie Review ~ The Gallows


The Facts:

Synopsis: 20 years after a horrific accident during a small town school play, students at the school resurrect the failed show in a misguided attempt to honor the anniversary of the tragedy – but soon discover that some things are better left alone.

Stars: Cassidy Gifford, Ryan Shoos, Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown

Director: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofling

Rated: R

Running Length: 81 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  Unlike most of my critic colleagues I haven’t been able to fully ring the death bell for the found footage horror genre that reached its critical mass about five years ago.  Made on the cheap with the ability to make a profit based on its open weekend haul alone, it’s not hard to see why these types of films produce big dollar signs in the eyes of movie studios that don’t have to spend a lot to get something big in return.  It’s clear though that the found footage fad is down to its dying breath (see The Devil Inside, Paranormal Activity 4, and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones for proof), and The Gallows is the most recent example of its drawn out death rattle.

I was a theater nerd in high school so hearing that The Gallows concerned the spirit of student killed in a tragic onstage accident that returns for some vengeance I was amused and interested.  Talk to any actor that’s spent time onstage and they’ll tell you about ghostly occurrences they’ve witnessed or legendary tales of the unexpected that have been passed own from one actor to another.  There’s gold in them there ghost stories and I half expected co-writers/directors Travis Cluff & Chris Lofling to produce a scary bit of gold in a genre that’s pretty much all lumps of coal.

Sadly, ‘twas not to be and The Gallows is one of those forgettable blips on the summer movie scene, a shot-in-the-dark bit of counterprogramming that substitutes loud sonic jolts for honest scares and manages to waste a whole lot of narrative potential.  Actually, the biggest mistake from the filmmakers was making this a found footage film in the first place.  Yes, the handheld camera/phone bits may have added to the overall sense of dread and contributed to the dizzying delirium of getting lost in the underbelly of a high school theater but had it gone the traditional route I think the scares would have been an easier sell.

It’s been 20 years since a student was accidentally hung during a performance of “The Gallows” and, surprisingly, for the anniversary the school board has approved a recreation of the show.  The majority of the filming is from the perspective of Ryan (Ryan Shoos) as an obnoxious (that’s putting it mildly) class clown that’s joking his way through his required Theater 101 course with his best friend Reese.  Reese (Reese Mishler, a young Tom Cruise doppelgänger) has the leading role opposite Pfeifer but is unsure of his lines or his talent.  When Ryan convinces Reese that the only way out of embarrassing himself is to break into the school after dark and destroy the set, a night of terror awaits as the guys get locked into the school along with Pfeifer and Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford, the daughter of Kathie Lee and Frank) and begin to be stalked by an unseen presence.

Many of the scenes seem to be improvised, an unwise decision because the four actors don’t have the confidence to move the story along with only a bare-bones concept of what’s happening next.  The dialogue is forced, phony, and crammed with endless bits of obvious exposition only present because Cluff and Lofling have no other way of indicating what’s happening.  At one point, another camera is introduced and the same sequence is repeated twice from different lenses…but they don’t match up with one another.

The film is crass with its stereotypes of jocks/populars vs. theater nerds/outcasts.  The more popular students are tanned, toned, and beautiful with the theater folk are geeky, oversized, and forgettable.   This is a school where theater practice happens during the day and students wear their costumes in the halls…though why the actors in the play were wearing Elizabethan costumes for a play set in colonial times is anyone’s guess.

Gifford and Mishler are relatively impressive in their performances while the aforementioned Shoos suffers from playing a character that’s so grating you’re praying for the moment he gets strung up (not saying he does or doesn’t…but I was ready and willing to let him go).  Pfeifer Brown (yes, the actors share the same names with their characters) ably screams her way through the finale that ratchets up the tension with a few impressive spooks but it’s too little, too late.  Even a nice head-spinner of an epilogue can’t acquit the rest of the film from its shortcomings.

The Gallows might make for nice viewing at cast parties down the road but don’t make much of an effort to catch this one during its brief run in theaters.

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