Friday, 17 July 2015



Yet another found footage teen horror movie. But this time at least the found technique isn't the main problem: this would still have been entirely disposable at best even if it had been made as a legitimate film with proper camerawork, editing and music. Sadly, there's so much else wrong with The Gallows that any problems with the long-exhausted found tropes are almost irrelevant.

Twenty years ago a high school drama production of a hilariously terrible play called The Gallows ended in tragedy when lead actor Charlie Grimille died onstage in the noose. Now, for no better reason than plot contrivance (the same plot contrivance as the 20-years-later Valentine's Day Dance in My Bloody Valentine or the 35-years-later Homecoming Dance in Rosemary's Killer), the drama society decides to put the wretched play on again. Star Reese (Reese Mishler) quit the football team to be in the play because he has a crush on female lead Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown - all the stars keep their given names for their characters), but his best friend Ryan (Ryan Shoos), and Ryan's girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) persuade him to break into the school after dark and wreck the scenery to prevent Reese's embarrassment. But they are Not Alone....

Given that our heroes are committing trespass and criminal damage, one might ask why they're openly filming their every move on mobile phones and camcorders. The answer is that they're absolute screaming idiots. Ryan is particularly loathsome: an obnoxious, giggling simpleton you really can't wait to see the back of. None of these people are even slightly sympathetic, and the film can't make you care about them. So many teen horrors seem to assume that for characters to be interesting and attractive, they have to be spiteful and boorish and this group is the least likeable for quite some time.

The spectre of Charlie does make for an effective bogeyman figure, and the darkened and empty school theatre is a potentially unnerving location. But while the film did make me jump a few times (though noticeably not as often as everyone else in the cinema) it's mostly through the basic method of sudden loud noises on the soundtrack. Former BBC weatherman Michael Fish could scare you like that if he sneaked up behind you and yelled Boo! in your ear, but it's got nothing to do with atmosphere or character empathy or genuinely creepy, lasting terror.

So with a roster of thoroughly unpleasant characters, the laziest of shock jump techniques and a potentially interesting monster and setting pretty much thrown away, the found footage aspect is the least of The Gallows' problems - without tossing the whole script away and starting again from scratch the greatest directors in cinema history couldn't have brought any of it to life. Sure you could carp that the film cuts between cameras in the middle of dialogue when there's supposedly only one camera present, or the "running with camera pointed at the floor" (I sat about six rows back and still felt queasy at some scenes). Or the shock coda, this time from a police camera, that doesn't even take place on the school grounds that Charlie supposedly haunts.

Yet it's clearly doing something right. It's like the second wave of slasher movies that came out several years after Halloween and Friday The 13th: like a Happy Birthday To Me or a Sleepaway Camp, it's not doing anything new or innovative, but it's doing the same old thing effectively enough to get by. This isn't The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, it's just another cover version of the same old tune.


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