Editor’s Notes: The Gallows is currently out in wide theatrical release. For another perspective on the film, read The Gallows: Banality Incarnate by Brandon Hart.
As far as found footage movies go, Blumhouse Productions would appear to be the king of the genre. After the success of the first Paranormal Activity, the production company stepped in and helped the franchise expand into a series steeped in fascinating mythology. Then there’s Patrick Brice’s SXSW hit Creep, in which Brice and Mark Duplass (the films only cast members) played out what could broadly be described as the bromance version of Fatal Attraction. Though they weren’t produced by Blumhouse or even explicitly horror films, Chronicle and End of Watch showed the great potential the genre held.
The Gallows exists somewhere between the stereotypical lifelessness often associated with the genre and the fantastic cinema that has come out of it
On a practical level, the appeal of the found footage genre can be easily understood. It’s a cheap way of making movies, one that lends itself to anyone despite any lack of experience. As a result, the genre has been labeled (in many ways, understandably so) as a putrid, lazy form of filmmaking that does far more harm than good. However, as the previous examples show, the found footage genre can cause chilling thrills when placed in the right hands.
As the latest entry in Blumhouse Production’s continuing output of horror films, The Gallows exists somewhere between the stereotypical lifelessness often associated with the genre and the fantastic cinema that has come out of it. It has a unique premise, a setting used to great potential, and characters that are interesting enough despite being cardboard characters. With a cast and crew composed almost entirely of up-and-coming filmmakers, The Gallows won’t be remembered as a pinnacle of found footage greatness, but it features enough scares to make for a thrillingly suspenseful romp.
The Gallows won’t be remembered as a pinnacle of found footage greatness, but it features enough scares to make for a thrillingly suspenseful romp.
The film opens with a flashback to a 90s production of “The Gallows” by a small town high school. Things take a deadly turn when a prop malfunctions and kills Charlie, who was a last-minute substitution for the play’s lead. Years later, the school is reviving the play as some sort of tribute to Charlie. Never in a million years would such a thing be considered good taste, and there’s even mention of the drama club having to battle the school board to get their way. Though it’s later revealed that some of the characters at play in the film had their own reasons for putting on the play, the writer/director duo of Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing never really provide a believable reason for why the play is put on. Sure, without said decision there wouldn’t be a movie, but The Gallows’s refusal to conjure up a believable scenario robs the movie of even more depth.
After ample time setting up its world and characters, who are interesting and fun to watch despite having borderline passable characterization, the movie launches full-force into pulling loose an endless barrage of jump scares, suspense-filled long takes, and obvious but well-executed twists. A group of teen are locked in a school with the malevolent ghost of a dead student, and they have to find a way out before they all die. If a movie with these ingredients isn’t your thing, you will undoubtedly hate this movie. However, those who appreciate a good jump scare will love The Gallows particularly because it spreads them out with good measure employs them so well.
Also well-employed is the film’s setting. As a teacher’s kid, I can testify first hand that schools are creepy places when the lights are turned off. The Gallows utilizes its setting to full advantage, allowing for moment after moment of genuine terror. Also well-employed are the ways in which Cluff and Lofing play with the timeline. Multiple recording devices are at play. In one of the film’s best moments, we watch as characters are trapped on the other side of a locked door while terrible things happen to their friend on the other side of the door. We then get to see what happens from the perspective of said friend from his point of view, and even though we know what’s coming it is still some scary stuff.
It’s these and other little touches that made The Gallows an entertaining found footage entry for me. It’s nowhere near a masterpiece, but it takes all the familiar ingredients we’ve come to associate with the genre and mixes them together into something that feels fresh and exciting. Between this, Creep, and Insidious 3, Blumhouse has solidified 2015 a great year for horror. Joel Edgerton’s The Gift marks their next entry, and I can’t wait to see if their streak continues.
The Gallows is nowhere near a masterpiece, but it takes all the familiar ingredients we’ve come to associate with the genre and mixes them together into something that feels fresh and exciting.