More so than in any other genre, fans of horror seem to get a rough deal. Big releases come round really infrequently, and in the meantime, you have to make do with endless sequels and over-hyped films that fail to live up to their potential. So when I saw all the furore over The Gallows – it’s being marketed as the scariest film since Paranormal Activity (which is pretty much a model home catalogue for ninety minutes), with the trailer showing off a quite good sequence where a hooded figure sneaks up on a young female, who is then pulled away by a noose. The question is whether it can live up to the hype surrounding it, and the answer is not really. It’s not terrible, but it’s not particularly brilliant either.
The film is set in an American high school. Twenty years ago, Charlie Grimille was accidentally hanged during a prop malfunction in school play The Gallows. In the present day, the school decides to stage the play again. On the night before the performance, in an effort to sabotage the play, lead actor Reese (Reese Mishler) and friends Ryan (Ryan Shoos) and Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) break into the school to destroy the set. They happen upon lead actress Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown), and the group of four find themselves on the receiving end of Charlie’s fury.
The film is found footage, told on a small scale that suits it well – the film is mostly related though a video camera and character’s phones, which enables us to see through different perspectives and thus align ourselves with different characters. This is a good move, because the first character we meet (and the principal filmer of the action) is such an obnoxious bellend that he makes everyone else seem good by comparison. We see him assaulting a stagehand on a whim, and making snide comments throughout – this isn’t a person I cared about at all.
One problem with the genre is justifying the cameras. This works later on, with the characters needing their phones and night-vision apps to see, but less so earlier. Ryan records everything for no reason, including the planning of and execution of a number of crimes.
With the exception of Ryan, the rest of the cast are a likeable bunch, even if they don’t do that much or develop their characters particularly. Charlie, on the other hand, is a bit of an odd one. He appears skulking in the background of shots (because all ghosts in found footage films love the spotlight before getting murder) for a while, and his costume is quite good in the brief instances it appears on-screen (he sports a hangman’s gear). His choice of weapon I am less impressed with – he uses a noose to take out his victims, even though he seems to have the power to strangle people remotely anyway.
Often, the strength of a horror film is in what it doesn’t show, and in this instance, The Gallows partially excels. Its brief glimpses of a hooded figure work well in making what is otherwise a laughable villain more frightening, but he shows up quite late. The film takes quite a while before anything really happens – a locker opens by itself, some ropes are pulled, but in a film running at less than 90 minutes, it must be halfway before anything really occurs.
I must also draw attention to the film’s ending. We are really heavy-handedly told what the ghost wants throughout, and he achieves his goal. A bonus scene is tacked on with some police investigators that forces answers to a number of questions, and this is not a good one. A lot of the oomph is taken away from the previous scene, and the addition of these couple of minutes actively makes the film worse.
The big question that faces any horror film is whether it is scary. The Gallows is not, although it is very jumpy – I did, at one point, literally jump in my seat. However, it is not much more than that. We’ve seen all this before, and this film does little to add or improve upon the formula. It is functional – a horror that will make you jump a bit while watching, but the spectre of Charlie isn’t going to keep you up at night.
Director: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Cast: Reese Mishler (Reese Houser), Pfeifer Brown (Pfeifer Ross), Ryan Shoos (Ryan Shoos), Cassidy Gifford (Cassidy Spiker), Travis Cluff (Mr. Schwendiman)
Running Time: 81 Mins