The Gallows (2015)

20 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I remember writing my “Unfriended” review like it was yesterday. It began with somewhat of a PSA about characterization. Let’s review: “If you’re going to make a teen slasher film without well-developed or even likable main characters, you have to have A) good commentary with an underlying theme & message, B) a clever gimmick, or C) both.” There are two types of horror-movie victims: people who make poor decisions and get severely punished for it, and one-dimensional pawns in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse who we do not care about when they die. “Unfriended” worked because while the characters could be seen as the latter for some, they were seen as the former by others who knew they were dumb teenagers—it was the film’s way of showing consequences while partaking in supernatural horror.

And now we have “The Gallows,” which has a lead character so detestable and unlikable and obnoxious that you’ll be wishing for the company of the jackass who got killed by a blender in “Unfriended.”

His name is Ryan (played by Ryan Shoos). He mocks everything and everyone he sees. He throws footballs at unpopular kids. He’s idiotic. He has no personality outside of hurtful comments. He’s the kind of stereotypical jock you usually find as a one-dimensional bully in high-school dramas, except here, he’s our hero. Good thing he’s in a horror film where he’ll surely die; at least when that happens, he’ll shut up.

Oh, and he films everything too. That’s right—“The Gallows” is another found-footage horror film in which characters record everything on their pocket cameras or their cellphones, including their imminent demises. They’re films that cost very little to make and are very profitable upon release. Some are good; others are…well, like “The Gallows,” pretty bad. Like the bad ones, there’s hardly an excuse for our characters to constantly film everything, and when there is, it’s usually nonsensical and lame. And even when they’re running for their lives, they’re still filming, causing a lot of shaky-cam that is never fun to look at. Oh, and there are also loud, sudden sound effects that couldn’t have been captured on camera, unless they knew they were making a movie and wanted to jump-scare audiences who think loud noises are scary

The film begins with home-video footage showing opening night of a high-school play called “The Gallows,” a “Crucible”-like morality tale, in a Nebraska high school in 1993. A prop malfunctions and a student is accidentally hanged. Cut to 2013, when the drama department has agreed to put the play back on. (Yeah I know, just go with it.) The actor playing the boy to be hanged is a star football player named Reese (Reese Mishler), who has a crush on his co-star, the devoted theatre student, Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Of course, his “friend” Ryan is unsympathetic and a complete jerk and tries everything to make him leave the play while also humiliate him in the process. He comes up with a plan for him and Reese to sneak into the school at night and trash the set so the play will be called off. They bring a cheerleader, Cassidy (Cassidy Erin Gifford), in on it, but soon, they, along with Pfeifer (who happens to come across them in the school), find themselves locked in as they begin to suspect that they’re not alone…

Even with an admittedly shocking reveal about one of the four characters in peril, there’s nothing particularly interesting about our bland leads. Even when it seems they’re about to take a promising turn in a possible relationship between Reese and Pfeifer, it’s cast aside to make room for more antics involving the scumbag known as Ryan and more screaming and yelling from everyone else (again, while they film everything—while we’re on the subject, there is no reason for this film to be shot in this style).

Is anything fresh about “The Gallows?” Yes, the location. Setting a horror film inside a school for the most part is an intriguing idea. It shows how a place can seem peaceful and cheery during the day and seem ominous and creepy at night. (Not to mention, it also saves money on a production designer, because the place is decorated already.)

It all comes back to Ryan. There’s a fine line between “funny” and “insulting” when it comes to creating characters that are kind of jerks, and they have to be kept in that gray area for us as an audience to care for them something even remotely bad happens to them. This is the kind of teenage douche bag that I hated in high school—not the best characterization for your horror movie lead! On top of that, the writing is awful, the terror is only mildly effective, and the found-footage gimmick doesn’t provide the slightest bit of tension, so I’m saying skip this movie like whatever school board should’ve skipped the decision to bring back a play that a child died while performing.

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