I watch a lot of horror, mostly because horror has a significant effect on me. Even in bad horror films, I get weird connections with the characters, my mind speculating things that the movie doesn’t even cover, as if it’s actively working against me to make things scarier. Good horror films (The Ring, The Descent, The Orphanage etc.) are great because they provide a good balance of on-screen horrors and enough left unsolved to allow you to take the creepy feeling home. Bad horror films (too many to list here) are usually cheap, PG-13 jump-scare films designed to entice tweens and teens for “Timmy’s first horror movie experience.”
If you could take every bad cliche and poorly constructed trope from this PG-13 style of horror film and stick it into one bland, boring film…oh hey! They already did that! It’s called The Gallows.
The Gallows‘ set-up is honestly the best part of the movie. It opens with VHS style home-video footage of a school play that goes horribly wrong. While recreating a scene from “The Gallows” (the name of the play and the movie! Wowza!”) back in 1993 something goes wrong during a hanging scene. One of the student actors, Charlie, actually gets hung and killed on stage. The way this scene is shot and portrayed is shocking and actually has a decent build up of tension, if it’s a little long in the tooth.
Skip ahead to…2013? 2015? The modern era. In honor of Charlie, the school is redoing the play (why?), starring two of our four main characters. Reese, a football star who is getting in the play because he has the hots for Pfeifer, the lead actress. His “friend” Reese is the one carrying the camera-phone around all the time, and lastly Reese’s girlfriend Cassidy is along for the ride as well.
I put “friend” in quotes because Ryan is a huge dick. He’s basically an ass to everybody, including his girlfriend, and when he finds out Reese is crushing on Pfeifer he hurries off to tell her and try and ruin that too. After seeing Reese’s awful stage performance, Ryan convinces Reese and Cassidy that a smart plan will be to sneak into the school at night and destroy all the props and stuff for the performance, so they’ll have to cancel it. Both agree with him because they’re all massive jerks and Reese can’t figure out that if he screws up the play, even if Pfeifer doesn’t know who did it, she’ll basically be heartbroken.
Of course, once they get in the school and smash up some stuff Pfiefer is there because of final plot twist reasons and, of course, the ghost of Charlie (or something like that) starts hunting the kids. What follows is systematic hanging executions after long segments of nothing and pointing the camera at dark hallways with nothing there. Seriously. It’s also worth pointing out that, out of the four on-screen deaths, the trailer shows two of them, meaning you can see 50% of the good parts of this movie by just watching the trailer.
Which is probably the best way to experience The Gallows because everything in its execution is abysmal.
First off, every character in this movie sucks. I understand the idea that some characters in horror films have to be unlikable because then viewers get a weird sadistic thrill when they’re offed (hey, it’s a horror tradition), but I don’t get the recent batch of horror films where nobody is likable at all. The Gallows ramps this up to eleven by not only having every character be a horrible person, but forcing you to watch them interact in high school for the first twenty minutes of the film. If you’ve wanted to see life from the perspective of those jerks in high school who tormented everybody but were still popular, The Gallows has got you covered.
After you leave High School Musical: Shaky-Cam Found Footage Edition the film doesn’t get much better. About the next 10-15 minutes is more setup, only this time at the school in the dark. When things finally start getting “spooky,” you’re so bored you don’t care anymore.
By “spooky” I mean “lots of long hallway shots with nothing spooky about them at all.” Let me add to this: I get slow horror. I love slow horror. It Follows is one of my favorite horror films (which also came out this year, surprisingly). But slow horror has to be done correctly. There has to be actual tension (often created by the characters slowly losing their nerve). It has to throw you a few bones. It can’t all just be shakeycam of things you can’t see. Which is what The Gallows has. Boo!
Aside from just being really boring and cliche, The Gallows also fully embraces all the tropes. The only cell phone arbitrarily doesn’t get service, something the main characters gleefully point out and then say “it’s because you use it too much!” (yeah…ok?). Good one, totally bought that. Rather than find a window and break it (or kick down a door we saw is paper-thin at the start of the movie), they elect to just wander around. They try all the phones in the staff room, but none of them bother to see if the computers are getting power. They wander down hallways full of creepy stuff and get split up, only for nothing to happen.
There’s weird technical problems too. Like how a “night vision app” suddenly gives a phone-camera actual night vision. Or the “Low Battery” flashing across the video screen (as if when your phone gets low on battery, it saves that image ON the video). Or the weird sudden camera cuts at the end. Or (my favorite) the “sting” sound effects for all the bland jump scares, even though this is supposed to be found footage. Oh, and the “whoosh” sound effect obviously overlayed whenever a character spins around. It would be funny if it weren’t all so bad.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. As a bonus, the ending “twist” is exceptionally stupid, all the way down to the final shot being an obvious jumpscare. It completely baffles me why this film is rated R (maybe hanging is a big no-no for the MPAA?), as it has all the trappings of a dull, bloodless, scareless PG-13 summer horror film. Bad acting, no scares (save jumpscares), no tension, cliches everywhere, and an uninteresting premise and execution make The Gallows one of the worst horror films I’ve ever seen.
It is almost, almost so bad I almost enjoyed it in a weird meta, satire sense. “They have to be doing this intentionally” I thought after watching 1/3 of the runtime wasted on high school drama and bad build-up. “It’s them just fooling around, right?” as cell phones had “No Service” and all the deaths were bland and bloodless. But, nope, turns out the creators were serious. So serious, in fact, that they had people put fake IMDB reviews up after the film came out to try and balance out the flood of negative reviews. Really. This happened. For shame.
Regardless, The Gallows is not worth your time, horror fan or no. Shelve it with crap like Ouija and all those other bland PG-13 horror films. There are plenty of other good, bloodless horror films out there (I’ve mentioned some at the start of the review), so favor those instead. Avoid this. At all cost. Seriously. It’s so bad. Go watch It Follows, because it’s a billion times better.