Mark Reviews Movies

The Gallows


1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing

Cast: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford

MPAA Rating: R (for some disturbing violent content and terror)

Running Time: 1:21

Release Date: 7/10/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 9, 2015

The Gallows is scary in the same way the 20th ride on the same roller coaster is exciting. To clarify, it's really, really not.

The sad thing is that the movie has an effective backdrop against which its routine story and attempts at scares unfold. The setting is an empty theater at night. If you've ever found yourself walking across a darkened stage, standing in the wings, or maneuvering through the house of such a space, you'll know what this means. If you haven't, it's a creepy experience, especially in the eerie electric glow of the stage's ghost light, which is both a practical and superstitious fixture on almost every stage you'll encounter.

The practicality, of course, is that it's a safety measure, lest anyone trip, fall, or crash into something. The superstition depends on the person you ask. Some say that it serves to honor the past actors and characters who have passed across that stage. Others say it's to ward off actual ghosts. A ghost light in the theater of this movie could have spared the characters a lot of trouble, primarily the fact that they have to wander around with a camera and/or their phones on for illumination.

Actually, the primary trouble is that the theater is haunted by an actor who was killed during a high school production 20 years ago, when the gallows on stage worked a little too well. This high school has decided to put on the same play, using the same set design and costumes, and even printing the same programs. It's a morbid enterprise, to say the least.

It's hard to believe that a group as superstitious as the practitioners of the theatrical arts, who refuse to say the name of a certain Shakespeare play set in Scotland, would tempt the ghost they're certain haunts this theater in such a way. Then again, the stage doesn't have a ghost light, and the school's theater teacher yells, "Cut," to put a rehearsal on hold (Cut what, exactly?). Maybe it's best to just ignore the lack of theatrical comprehension within the whole thing and just accept it all as necessary to the premise.

Even then, though, one has to put up with the movie's stylistic and formal contrivances. The main one is that this is yet another example of a "found footage" movie, in which we're informed that what we're watching is "real" footage—in this case, video evidence from the local police department.

The plot, as if it's really necessary, involves four students trapped in the theater at night. Reese (Reese Mishler), the football player who is playing the role that the actor who was accidentally hanged played, and his buddy Ryan (Ryan Shoos), a jerk of the highest (Is it "lowest"?) order, have come to take down the set with Ryan's girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford). They want to stop the play from happening, lest Reese embarrass himself. Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown), the cute theater nerd on whom Reese has a crush, arrives to investigate, and suddenly, all of them are being haunted and chased by a ghost in an executioner's hood. Naturally, they do a lot of stupid things (taking out-of-the-way detours, climbing things that shouldn't be climbed, and separating from the group), which, to a certain extent, is fine since we don't really care about any of them.

There are a couple of things writers/directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing get right with the "found footage" conceit. The characters need to use the camera for light. The battery of the camera dies at one point. A few shots are striking in terms of creating an unsettling feeling from the locale (There's a moving shot down a dark, concrete hallway in which the way the walls are painted makes it seem as if the space is dissolving into nothingness). There are a lot of shots of feet, because, let's face it, most people aren't competent cinematographers.

We also, though, get the downside to the concept. The camera pans back and forth (always with a dramatic "whoosh" for some reason) across a scene until something pops into frame to startle us (It's almost always telegraphed with the sudden appearance of ambient noise). The characters use the camera at times when it doesn't make sense, beyond the fact that it has to be on to record some kind of scare (It's especially noticeable when they have to awkwardly hold the camera in order to get the proper framing). There are a lot of shots of feet when, at least hypothetically, something more interesting is happening above the characters' legs.

The Gallows at least isn't incompetent. It is, though, far too familiar and quickly tiresome.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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