Don’t let the fact that this latest low-budget horror from Blumhouse productions (Paranormal Activity, The Purge) has been one of the more successful genre efforts at the box office this year fool you. The Gallows brings absolutely nothing to the exasperating ‘found-footage’ sub-genre. I’m at the point now where I wonder if anyone’s ever going to at least try to do something innovative with it in a horror movie, as every found-footage horror I end up seeing just gives me the feeling of recycling the same few tired troupes again and again.
To be fair The Gallows, from debutant writer-directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing does boast a relatively unusual setting for a teen horror; it takes place almost entirely backstage before the production of a school play, though fails to get any mileage out of that. It begins with a convincingly re-created bit of 1993 camcorder footage as a Nebraska high school is putting on a production of a play called ‘The Gallows’, presumably set in the 1600s. An entirely predictable accident occurs resulting in the death of an actor on stage, whom we later learn was an understudy.
The rest of the film all takes place 20 years later when the same high school has decided for some unknown reason to re-stage the play that once killed a student of theirs, tastelessly using the same props and programs no less. Our leads are Reese (Reese Mishler), a jock athlete type who’s decided to take part in the play as an excuse to get closer to lead actress Pfeiffer (Pfeifer Brown), despite being mocked by his fellow jocks including Ryan (Ryan Shoos), who wants to cause trouble for the production with his girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford).
So The Gallows appears to have gone the Blair Witch Project route in using unknown actors’ real names, and indeed opens with a card informing us that this is “video evidence” in some kind of futile attempt to make it seem more real. The film did in fact remind me of found footage populariser Blair Witch (a film I am no fan of) in parts though – but primarily because Ryan, who is the cameraman for most of the film, is spectacularly irritating. He’s so grating in fact that you might be rooting for him to be bumped off sooner rather than later. None of the performances are particularly good, but at least they’re not all as bad as he is.
After a good chunk of the first act is taken up with clichéd high school goings on, the foursome wind up backstage the night before the play is to be staged. Here’s where the supposed horror kicks in, but it’s also where all the tedious found-footage techniques start appearing, (night vision, ‘low battery’, tearful monologue to camera). The Gallows doesn’t even handle these well enough to generate a single good scare. As the film reveals the true nature of what’s hunting these hapless teens down, you may just be wondering where the additional cameras are coming from.
The Gallows is a poorly made, scare-free movie that exemplifies almost everything I, and countless others, have come to dislike about found-footage horror. Even at a mercifully brief 81 minutes, it’s a waste of time.