The Gallows is another found-footage horror pic (à la Paranormal Activity,) that would’ve been better off undiscovered. It’s October 1993, and audience members are recording a high school production of the play The Gallows. Instead of listening to the performance, an unnamed male and female offer a running commentary on the action, which is rude to the people around them and renders the video useless to anyone they’d show it to later, because no one can hear what the actors are saying. The sequence doesn’t last long, however, because all hell breaks loose when the lead in the play, Charlie (Jesse Cross), accidentally dies by hanging.
Jump 20 years, and now there’s someone even more obnoxious behind the camera. His name is Ryan (Ryan Shoos), and he’s the douchebag you knew in high school and hated — and would still hate if you saw him today. He has a total of zero redeeming qualities (I counted), and seems to be recording everything leading up to the anniversary reenactment of The Gallows because … we never learn. Knowing Ryan, it’s just so he can make fun of his friend Reese (Reese Mishler) for being the lead in the play rather than on the football team. Meathead Ryan is on the football team, and is a bully to the stage crew, in particular one stage boy (Price T. Morgan). But Ryan’s also part of the tech crew, because it gives him an excuse to be late to football practice. Like I said, no redeeming qualities.
Since he’s a terrible friend, Ryan convinces Reese to take advantage of an unlocked door near the auditorium and destroy the set so Reese doesn’t embarrass himself in the play, scheduled to be performed the next night. Mind you, this is all Ryan’s idea, after he tells Reese what a terrible actor he is. Reese agrees, thinking it will help him with his crush on co-star Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown), giving her a shoulder to cry on when all is destroyed and the show can’t go on. So Ryan, Reese and Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy Spilker (Cassidy Gifford, daughter of Frank and Kathie Lee) go to the school at night and tear down the set.
Then, surprise! Pfeifer shows up. Lockers open and close on their own. All the doors to the school lock, so they can’t get out. Mysterious sounds are heard in the distance. No service on their cell phones. Ominous dark hallways are explored, and VCRs (what year?) run without a tape inside. One by one, the teens die. And after each death, we’re not unhappy to see them go.
It’s never good when a horror movie has more fake scares than real scares, as is the case here. As a result, when the real scares come, they’re not very scary, and they break the “rules” of the movie. Consider: In a found-footage picture, we’re supposed to only see and hear what the characters video-recorded at the time the events occurred. Why they would continue to record when their lives are in danger is a discussion for another time. What’s not genuine about the premise is that the video(s) are clearly edited together and the loud “gotcha” noises that accompany every real and fake scare don’t belong, because they’re not organic to the moment. If a movie can’t even play by the rules it chooses for itself, there’s no reason to give it your attention. This is a prime example of a film that would’ve been better off with a straightforward narrative approach rather than gimmicky found-footage that isn’t used effectively.
The Gallows was written and directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing on a paltry $100,000 budget, then picked up for distribution by New Line Cinema. No doubt the studio saw a cheap property with which they could turn a quick profit (many horror movies recoup and exceed their budgets on opening weekend alone), so it’s not a surprise the film is screening in theaters. It’s just a surprise that it’s as bad as it is. And is anybody else bothered by the fact that most of the characters have the same first names as the actors?