The Gallows

Posted by Joel Copling on July 10, 2015

It's been a while since a movie as resolutely pointless as "The Gallows" has come round the bend, but here we are: This is a movie only conspicuous for an uncanny ability to accomplish absolutely nothing for a thankfully brief but still padded 81 minutes. There is not so much a plot as a premise, which never rises above the level of a thesis statement for an essay unlikely ever to be written. There are not so much characters as chattel, in whom we never develop an interest and for whom we feel a lick of sympathy because they are right below "cardboard cutouts" on the charisma scale. There are not so much scares as reels of film dedicated to poorly framed flickering-light-shows and random movements from a shadowy figure that isn't even scary during his leaps toward the camera.

It's amazing, actually, to see twenty minutes of build-up to a narrative that dissipates as soon as we realize that none of these characters is likely to survive this ordeal intact. We get the set-up of the scary business, although it seems to be missing a key item: Yes, in 1993, a student of the high school our eventual four protagonists attend was killed onstage during a production of a play called "The Gallows," and yes, the same school is holding the same play twenty years later with many of the same props and designs. But this is not established as some cult-like legend in the town, so any stakes in recreating the play are never established.

True, our protagonists pretty much acknowledge this by targeting the sets of the play the night before it is supposed to be performed, not because of the legend (which Ryan, the resident cameraman of this found-footage affair played by Ryan Shoos, constantly mocks), but because of boredom and exasperation at how lame drama class is. Ryan's best friend Reese (Reese Mishler) is the local football star who has also decided to take up the role previously occupied by the student who died twenty years previously and who harbors a crush on obnoxious leading lady Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Ryan convinces Reese and his own girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) of the plan to trash the stage, and they do so (later recruiting Pfeifer when she randomly shows up for no reason at the school).

The rest of the movie consists of their antics in the darkened studio, where the lights don't work at night and they must operate by the flashlight on Reese's camera and the Flashlight and Night Vision apps on Ryan's iPhone. The attempt by writing/directing team Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing to make this a semi-believable "found footage" experiment dissolves immediately upon any attempt at frights, which are ludicrously caught on cameras that are positioned in increasingly ludicrous places. The performances from the central cast of teens are on the opposite end of the spectrum from "convincing," and the lame attempts at humor in the opening act do nothing to raise our spirits about how much we will potentially like these people.

But all of it (the foundation of the central mystery, a third-act twist that goes nowhere but was already completely stupid, standard common sense about the production of a play for which no one seems to know his or her lines the night before it opens, even the bare development of the characters) goes to waste in a patently ridiculous final ten minutes that makes no sense whatsoever and stretches the found-footage gimmick past its creative breaking point. "The Gallows" ultimately hinges on lame CGI, out-of-place character decisions, and a brief allusion to 2010's "Black Swan" that attempts (and wildly fails) to touchin on theatre superstitions.

Film Information

Reese Mishler (Reese), Pfeifer Brown (Pfeifer), Ryan Shoos (Ryan), Cassidy Gifford (Cassidy).

Directed and written by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing.

Rated R (disturbing violent content/terror).

81 minutes.

Released on July 10, 2015.