Editor’s Notes: The Gallows is currently out in wide theatrical release.
Another day, another studio hoping to manipulate our often impulsive modern youth into wasting their parent’s money on uninspired 80 minute-long found-footage stimuli. You’ve heard that phrase before, no doubt, and this weekend, boy did it ring true.
The Gallows is a film that sets unique concepts in place, but does nothing exciting with a single one.
The Gallows is a film that sets unique concepts in place, but does nothing exciting with a single one, and lets them decompose before anything interesting can come of the whole endeavor. It’s a film whose entire first act consists of a detestably rude teenager repeatedly pointing out an object, centering that object in frame, and cracking a stupid joke to set it up for a later scare. Characters are often literally referred to as personifications of their high school cliques or quirks, from the “Theater Geek” to the “Teen Dreamboat Who Doesn’t Know He’s a Cool Kid and Has an Innocent Crush on the Unpopular Girl (Which Makes Him a Better Person).” Put more simply, The Gallows takes the laziest possible route in far too many respects, whether script-based or onscreen.
We open on an old murder tape of sorts, a la Sinister, as a 90’s high school performance of the play “The Gallows” goes horribly wrong. How? Charlie, the understudy to a character who’s sentenced to hang, dies at the hands of a prop malfunction during said scene. Yes, this high school play utilizes a real, no-nonsense, fully functioning gallows. That’s either the worst idea in all of history, or the stupidest thing I’ve seen on film this year. Probably the latter. Anyways, cut to the present, and the school board decides, “Hey, let’s give it another shot. Maybe this time, a student won’t struggle to breath amid strangulation and lose consciousness before dying in front of every parent at the school.” Our teenage leads think that’s a horrendously awful idea, which is the only competent choice they make throughout the entire film, and decide to do something about it. They’ll break into the school, after dark, to destroy the set and stop the ill-conceived production in its tracks. What follows is extremely dumb, shakily filmed, and only annoyingly startling, never genuinely unsettling.
The Gallows an intriguing edge, if it didn’t limit such a clever idea to a mere 15 minutes of its runtime.
The only original thing here is the concept of having two cameras provide all of the pseudo-found footage. Once characters become separated, each cut between these cameras places the viewer minutes backward in the events of the film. For example, sounds heard off-camera in one scene are given a visual explanation in the next. This would give The Gallows an intriguing edge, if it didn’t limit such a clever idea to a mere 15 minutes of its runtime. And, with that down the drain, all we’ve got left are dozens of terribly derivative characterizations, countless instances of scare telegraphing, and all-around general dullness. The ludicrous plot is forgotten about once jump scares kick in, and when finally addressed again, it’s accompanied by a twist that betrays logic, rhyme, reason, and everything in between.
Top that all off with a criminally prevalent “scary monster runs at the camera” final shot, and what you’ve got what amounts to nothing more than banality incarnate. Actually, no, it only wishes it was incarnate, because that would mean it has life. In summary, The Gallows blatantly panders to teens with short attention spans and, considering how perfectly it encapsulates the problems plaguing modern horror, appears to have been crafted by them too.
The Gallows blatantly panders to teens with short attention spans and, considering how perfectly it encapsulates the problems plaguing modern horror, appears to have been crafted by them too.