Ah, found footage films. Once again our paths cross because some director thought that it would be artsy and financially sound to pay homage to The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Except that’s what the trailer showed per se — I was shocked to find that this movie was shot in this style. Still, in the week of the summer doldrums, it’s always nice to get a good scare if possible.
Let’s take a look at The Gallows.
The Gallows is a found footage film which begins with a 1993 high school production of “The Gallows” but the lead, Charlie, is accidentally hung on stage. Fast forward to 2013 where the same school is putting on the same play starring a football star named Reese and drama club queen named Pfeifer as its lead. However, Reese’s friends, Ryan and Cassidy suggest (for their own selfish reasons) to destroy the set over night to keep the pay from happening. They arrive to the school at night and begin taking down the set, find Pfeifer there as well, and get stuck. What follows is a night of horrors as the teens are stalked by the Hangman, the vengeful spirit of Charlie himself.
If there’s one thing this movie gets lots and lots of points is how it builds suspense. It follows the standard formula of high school teens do something they shouldn’t and getting punished for it. Every decision they make is stupid, every word uttered is one closer to their doom. And yet, the movie uses its found footage roots to make every shot feel tight and suspenseful, with the use of the lighting really adding to the creepiness. Even though I knew that all the teens would be meeting an untimely end, I was on the edge of my seat just waiting for when it would happen. It helps that the film often employs two cameras, wherein we see scenes from two different perspectives, meaning there’s no off-screen human chaos we aren’t privy to.
Another aspect of the film that adds to the suspense is that the monster, the Hangman, isn’t overused. In fact, by my count, we see him seven times in the entire film, and usually for no more than a few seconds and usually in the dark. His costume falls into that tradition of brown plus stitches equals creepy but since the actual mask is seen so rarely seen that it’s not a big issue. However, his motivation is pretty weak — so he kills the kid of the man who should’ve been killed instead but then why continue killing? What is the point of taking out two other teenagers? It’s a bit hack and slash in that sense.
The main actors, while seems a tad too old to be in high school, actually do an excellent job at portraying total and absolute terror. Reese Mishler as Reese (yes, the main four actors have the same first names as their characters, not sure why) makes an impressive lead as the calm and collected one, while Pfeifer Brown is perfect as the drama queen love interest. Still, Ryan Shoos and Cassidy Glifford are the best, with some of the best reactions and physicality, they were incredibly convincing in their roles.
It’s the ending where the movie totally falls apart. As Reese gets up on the stage gallows to do what it is that Charlie wants, Pfeifer continues to do the lines as her character. Reese, sensing something is very, very wrong, pleads with her to stop saying the lines before the Hangman kills him. Pfeifer takes a bow with him while a crazy lady who has been watching every rehearsal, who turns out to be Pfeifer’s mother, claps. The play is finally finished. The police go looking for the pair only to be attacked by Charlie, for whatever reason.
There’s very little hinting at this relationship (or if Charlie is Pfeifer’s father at all, because then at the very youngest she’d be 19 and too old for high school) so it’s a twist that comes out of left field. Also what does this mean? Who else is going to die? No idea, because none of it is explained or put inside of a larger context. All we know is that there is a police force in Nebraska that is aware of ghosts.
The Gallows is a horror movie that uses found footage to its advantage and would have been a contender for being the best of the genre had the screen play been a little stronger in the ending. The Hangman is not going to be a popular or famous movie monster and I can’t see this movie having enough box office power to warrant a sequel. Still, I think its worth a watch if only for some really well done camera work and intense scenes, a decent summer gem as far as the horror genre goes.
– Expert creation of suspense.
– Strong acting.
– Excellent camera use.
– Ending falls apart.
– Plot a bit shaky and formulaic over all.