“Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid” – A Review of The Gallows

No need to sugarcoat, this movie is a piece of shit to the highest caliber. Like one of the glorious ones that could be described in a version of The Aristocrats joke. No less than 5 people walked out of the advanced screening that I was attending and the theatre wasn’t very full to begin with so 5 people was a pretty high percentage. It’s worth noting that in the same calendar year, I’ve seen one of the best horrors films (It Follows) as well as possibly one of the worst (that of course would be The Gallows, if you weren’t anticipating where I was going). So I am going to attempt to review this film. This review will contain an abundance of spoilers. I wouldn’t normally do that, but I feel the public needs to be warned. First off, it’s a found footage movie. Yes, another one. It starts off with camcorder footage of a high school play entitled “The Gallows” during which an accident occurs and a student, Charlie, dies by hanging. Fast forward 20 years and the same high school is reviving the play. Ex-jock, Reese, is the lead in the play, his friend, Ryan, makes fun of him endlessly and tirelessly. In order to help Reese get of the performance, Ryan concocts a plan to break into the school the night prior to the performance via a side door that has a broken lock (apparently which everyone already knew about expect for Ryan) and it leads to backstage. Once inside, they would destroy the set ensuring the play couldn’t go on. Seems plausible. While “destroying” the set (I’ll get back to that), Charlie comes back, things start to happen and there’s your story.

There are TV shows and other movies that use improv to move the story along. This seems as though its trying to do the same thing. The director sets the scene, provides a point A and a point B, the actors have to fill in the gaps themselves. And they can’t. The cast of Curb Your Enthusiasm, they are not. Once the film arrives in 2013, the first 15 minutes has Ryan filming the behind the scenes footage of the rehearsals. He films the mothers and the fathers in the audience watching the practice as well as this mystery woman who shows up to watch every rehearsal. She is not known to anyone. Ryan then follows Reese as he leaves just to mock him; he’s adding his commentary to everything he’s filming. It’s neither funny or entertaining, but it’s supposed to be. It’s just annoying. It lessens after a while, but it basically continues until Ryan dies. Yes, I said there would be spoilers. And thankfully, he dies first. Early on, we learn that Ryan has a girlfriend named Cassidy (who is the real life daughter of Katie Lee and Frank Gifford) and Reese joined the school play because he has a crush on the female lead, Pfeifer. We see side interviews with some audience members. The mystery woman is spoken to and it’s revealed that she was in the original tragic production. And then immediately afterwards, the very next interviewee provides some exposition, “I think Charlie had a girlfriend.” Hmm, I wonder.

*** I literally just spilled my coffee while writing this review. I’m thinking Charlie had something to do with it ***

Skipping ahead, Ryan and Cassidy stop off at Reese’s house to pick him up before heading to the school. Ryan, still filming for whatever reason, interrupts an argument between Reese and his father. The father doesn’t understand why Ryan quit football and that he should quit the play. Is it because the father is a misogynist or does he have another reason? A hidden secret perchance? They make it to the school and go inside through the aforementioned broken door. It’s always broken, it’s never locked. Just making sure you know that this door can not be locked. They are still filming as their vandalism rap sheets start being developed. This is their idea of destroying the set. They break a couple of bulbs because those can’t be replaced. They knock over some fake plants and trees because there’s no way those can be picked up. And then they start to dismantle the gallows set-piece using power tools and taking it apart one screw at a time because there’s no way you could reassemble it. I presume that smashing was not in the budget. They couldn’t afford to break a prop or chop up a piece of wood. It would be too costly to repair and too time consuming to rebuild. If they needed another take, they can quickly set everything up again.

They start hearing noises, it’s probably Charlie at this point, but Pfeifer magically is there because she happened to be by the school and she saw Reese’s car. The noises start up again, now everybody wants out. But none of the doors will open. Not even the unlockable door. Who saw that coming? They explore the school looking for the way out and while it was questionable before, it’s even more so now, why are they still filming?! I understand you require the lights on the camcorder and phones, but you don’t need to be filming for the lights to be working. Some of the angles they film at or where they set the camera down make no logical sense except if they knew they would need certain coverage for a scene. Here are a couple examples. Towards the end of the movie, Reese is consoling Pfeifer. Their faces are pretty close together, he’s the only one talking and we see his face and the whole back of her head. He’s holding the camera. Why the hell did he need to shoot from that angle? Another illogical filming angle happens after some crazy shit has gone down, Cassidy needs some alone time in a stairwell. She’s sitting on the floor with her back to the stairs with her knees tucked to her chest as she’s crying in fear. But before assuming this position, she’s placed her camera on the floor angling upwards, framing herself perfectly. And she’s not even using the light at this point. The light source is just the moody, red glow from an EXIT sign. Then inexplicably, she picks up the phone and films an extreme close-up of herself crying (Blair Witch style, snot and all) and then she zooms out for some reason only to reveal that she now has a noose around her neck. She promptly gets pulled off into the darkness to her death.

I want to pause for a second and take a moment to comment on the acting in this move. It’s god awful. That’s it. The best acting that will come out of this movie will be Katie Lee telling her daughter what a great movie it was and how terrific she was all while trying to keep a straight face. Well, Botox will probably help. I apologize for jumping all over the place. I’m just trying to consolidate the common scenes of awfulness. So backing up to the whole group looking for an exit, Pfeifer stumbles upon this mysterious halfway that leads them through a door into a room with a TV on the dancing ants channel (general TV static). Suddenly, as though someone is hacking into the feed, a news report of the original tragedy plays. It cuts out every now and then, but conveniently it doesn’t miss any important information and all of the exposition remains intact. During the broadcast, they show a photo of Charlie’s girlfriend who looks like a younger version of the mystery woman from the rehearsals. So this leads Ryan to spell it out for everyone, “that’s the lady from before.” Wow, thanks. I couldn’t have or hadn’t put that together myself already. Also during the footage, they show a still photograph of the original cast and this causes Reese to freak out. He runs through the school to arrive at the display case that has the same photo. It turns out, his Dad was in the original cast. And he hadn’t noticed this before? I mean, he knew where to go to find the photo? It took some grainy old newsreel footage for him to notice his Dad? As the story goes, Charlie was originally cast as the gallows-man and Reese’s Dad had the lead, but the day before he backed out and Charlie was his understudy. So Reese jumps to the conclusion, “that’s why Charlie died. Because my Dad dropped out.” Yes, that’s very logical because the two things are totally linked. Such a contrived notion for the movie, and such a poor motive for a revenge story.

I’m about to give away the ending, so if you don’t want to know it, stop reading. It turns out that Pfeifer is the daughter of Charlie’s girlfriend and she asked Reese to be a part of the production in order to exact revenge. However, there’s no mention whether or not Charlie was her father because it didn’t hint that the Mom was pregnant at the time of his death. So Pfeifer has no attachment or obligation to Charlie other than if she’s been brainwashed by her Mom. And if she is his daughter, the script probably didn’t mention the pregnancy because you would automatically assume that his offspring was in the play. Again, everything is so contrived. Even the play’s name, The Gallows, seems contrived. I actually thought that maybe the play within the movie was based on an actual play. But no, it’s all just there to help set up the movie’s killer. And what’s up with the gallows themselves? What school would allow the construction of an actual gallows? Charlie died because the trapdoor opened when it shouldn’t have and he would have needed to be harnessed in to ensure safety anyway. So looking back, how is this all Reese’s Dad’s fault? And what of Charlie himself? He comes back dressed as a gallows man even though he died as the lead and he was supposed to have played the gallows man? And before death he was a 90 pound weakling getting sand kicked in his face and in death he’s this tall, hulking menace? Upon saying that, I realize that’s the same as Jason in the Friday The 13th movies. I didn’t even think about that until now, and it’s never bothered me because there are enough redeeming things in the Friday series that I can overlook that flaw. The only redeeming things about this movie were that fact I didn’t have to pay for it and 80 minute running time, but even that seemed much longer.

All in all, this thing is a mess. There wasn’t even a decent jump scare. I didn’t flinch at all. Other bad horror films can muster up one or two even it they are just a reflex and doesn’t mean that the movie itself is scary. I want to be scared; I want to have a feeling of tension and dread fall upon me. I saw Inside Out the night before and that had scenes with more scary elements. Every potential jump scare was telegraphed long before they happened (the camera pans away, the camera pans back, ahh, there’s something new in the frame now). The only thing scary about this movie is that some people in the audience did seem legitimately scared. Every twist could be seen from a mile away. If you couldn’t anticipate the scares, then you’ve probably never seen a horror movie. If you couldn’t see the twists coming, then you’ve probably never seen a movie. So that means this was your first foray into the world of cinema, and now I feel sorry for you. Watch anything else, it will be better. Watch a VHS copy of my 6th grade production of Johnny Appleseed: The Musical, it will be better. The acting is hackneyed, the arguments seem forced and the movie uses every horror movie cliché out there. It also rips off so many superior movies. With some movies you may call it an homage. In this film’s case, they’re just copying the other movies because they couldn’t think of any original ideas. All the actors share the same name as their characters (like Blair Witch). It could be copying, but maybe it’s because the actors are not smart enough to react when to a name other than their own is spoken.

Earlier, I brought up It Follows. You could easily make a comparison between them. Both were independently made. Both have small budgets. Both involve humans and the supernatural. It just goes to show that you need to start with a good idea as a foundation. Sadly, The Gallows will probably end up making more money because it’s getting a wider release and has a major studio backing it. Also, it’s a cookie cutter movie and far too often the generic movies earn more than ones that actually have an original idea. I just pray that it doesn’t spawn a sequel. I don’t know how it could, but if it makes money they’ll find a way. I think I’ll tune the series out until The Gallows X when descendants of the original production perform the play in space and Charlie can then don a kick-ass metal gallows-man hood. That may be worth my time.


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