Overview: Four teens get stuck in a high school theater with a sinister presence. 2015; Warner Bros. Pictures; Rated R; 81 minutes.
Foreshadowing Stupid: Sometimes, the set-up for far-fetched, supernatural thrillers require a little bit more than the suspension of disbelief. Sometimes, one has to be willing to move quickly, without thinking, past questions begged by a film’s supported narrative logic. I was not surprised (nor was my interest immediately derailed) when I found myself asking these sorts of questions in the first act of The Gallows. Why would a school produce a play with a gallows scene? And why would the stage prop version of the execution tool come with a hinged bottom hatch? Why would any school, on the anniversary of such a traumatic tragedy, host the exact same stage production? And why would that school be decorated in pictures of that initial tragedy’s victim posing with his troupe? The answer to all of these questions, of course, is, “So the movie can exist.” I suppose it all comes down to a willingness to excuse these, well, I don’t suppose we could call them plot holes (maybe script farts). Some might argue that you have to curb your expectations, and understand the “kind-of-film” you’re watching, and run with it. While I do not personally agree with the former perspective, my contradictory opinion is typically of no consequence, as most films that start with these sorts of questions end with even bigger and dumber issues, and so it is with The Gallows.
Executing Stupid: The longer I continued to watch this movie, the more frequently I found myself asking something more perplexing than mere plot-inspired questions: Why was this a found footage movie? Writers and directors Travis Cluff and Chris Loffing, with Edd Lucas as cinematographer, present their traditionally inspired horror film as a collection of footage shot by hunted high school characters (and later gathered by the police as evidence), but the filmmakers never use that technique to its proven advantages. The greatest benefits of the found footage format lie in the establishment of eerie personal involvement for the audience through grainy, amateur film quality, and frenetic, unprofessional frame rates, both of which reflect through a first-person perspective the frantic efforts for survival by a film’s featured characters. Though we are lead to believe that the characters are using a handheld camera, the image quality in The Gallows is mostly that expected of studio-level equipment, only unreliable and unclear in the final moments, and even then sheerly for the convenience of moving the action to where it needs to be without having to film the exact movement. Cluff and Loffing attempt to use each character’s cell phone accessibility to create additional footage to allow for cut-scenes and back jumps, which prove particularly troublesome given that they deflate all of the tension and jolts from two of the film’s three central murders. The more traditional approach (which has served slasher films well for decades) would allow for both of these editing techniques without having to force the viewer to wonder why the cops spent so much time editing evidence into a cinematic structure. The highest compliment that I might be able to extend to this movie is regards to its sound editing (which is also of an otherwise distracting studio quality). And thus, the compliment is really an insult to the film given, that the poor sound quality in the found-footage sub-genre is so often the scariest element.
Brooding Stupid: All of these clumsy decisions have been made in a clear effort to kick-off a new series built around a recognizable killer with a trademark look, mask, and weapon. Think Mike Myers, Leatherface, Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, and the like, and all of whom had legendary opening entries. There are about six minutes of film in The Gallows where such a comparison isn’t blasphemous, and the best of that stretch can be seen in the film’s first teaser (which, on its own, is a better film than this one). Charlie is the strangely hulking ghost of a scrawny teen killed onstage twenty years earlier (add, “Do ghosts take steroids,” to this movie’s list of senseless questions). The design behind Charlie is incredible, and his weapon of choice could have been used to great effect, but never really is. Ultimately, the villain of The Gallows is anchored by the surrounding film’s stupidity, and an inarticulate teleporting logic that sometimes benefits his character, and at other times impedes his primary mission to kill.
Overall: The Gallows doesn’t get much right. In fact, it seems to do everything it can to bring down the near-perfect average established by 2015’s class of horror films.
Featured Image: Warner Bros. Pictures