It’s been almost 15 years since ‘The Blair Witch Project’ exploded into a phenomenon and made Found Footage the go-to production model for upstart indie horror filmmakers. The device can be ingeniously employed and some truly great genre flicks have emerged from the trend, like ‘[Rec]’ or ‘Chronicle’, but unfortunately it’s also become a trap and an easy way for filmmakers to convince themselves that they’re bringing something fresh to tired material. ‘The Gallows’ is the latest entry in this endless fad. It’s not the worst Found Footage horror flick, but it’s also far from the best.
The movie starts with old VHS footage of a high school play called “The Gallows” (hey, just like the movie!). A snarky high school teacher films the show only to see something go horribly wrong as a student is accidentally killed by a noose. Twenty years later, the school decides to run the play again as some sort of twisted anniversary celebration in an act of horrible taste. You know, it’s the sort of thing that couldn’t possibly anger the dead and lead to a horrible haunting.
From there, a new wise-cracking jerk takes over cameraman duties, this time a hapless teen named Ryan Shoos (also played by an actor named Ryan Shoos, because this is one of those movies). Since he’s a classic jock jerk, he’s irritated that his football buddy Reese is appearing in the play purely because he has a crush on the leading lady. Desperate to bring an end to the show, Ryan convinces Reese to break into the school and destroy the sets. It should be a good old-fashioned high school prank, except once they get into the school, things start going spookily wrong and they can’t get out.
The rest of the movie plays out pretty much as you’d expect. It’s one of those ghostly revenge tales where an angry sprit creates all sorts of trouble for our heroes before it gets bored of torturing them and finally commits to killing them off one-by-one. Co-writers/directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing are clearly enamored with that sort of old spook house stuff and, admittedly, have a certain flair for it. They race through the set-up fairly quickly (characterization is sacrificed in the process, but hey, at least the good stuff comes faster) and then execute some pretty good Crash, Boom, Bang jump scares while also tossing in plenty of contrivances to keep the kids trapped in their horrible situation.
Sure, you’ll wonder why these dumbbells would climb up ladders or wander into darkened rooms alone when they’re clearly lambs headed to a slaughter. But that’s part of the fun of a dumb horror movie. The filmmakers know how to poke and prod audiences well enough to get the required jumps. After all, they were able to sell this no-budget horror flick to a studio, so the duo must have done something right.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t offer much beyond those surface sensory pleasures. The central spirit is never fleshed out enough to have any motivation, nor do the human characters amount to much other than cardboard high school archetypes that the audience will be pleased to see killed off. The aesthetic is simple, messy shakycam without much of an artful approach or even care.
In the end, ‘The Gallows’ is merely a passable work of low rent jump-scare horror. It’s doesn’t have the aesthetic thrills of ‘It Follows’ or the ingenuity of ‘Unfriended’. However, it offers all the hoots and hollers promised in the trailer in a tight 81-minute running time with minimum fussing about. For anyone just looking to squeal at an easy scare in a theater this weekend, ‘The Gallows’ will scratch that itch. Just don’t expect it to endure or be remembered for very long.