Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review: The Gallows

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
This is the type of film that I fear could one day fall into the hands of extraterrestrials searching our planet for signs of intelligence. It's the type of picture in which every character acts according to how the plot needs them to behave at all times, which is typically against any sort of good judgment or survival instinct. And because it's a found footage horror movie, the characters never manage to drop the cameras they are carrying, even when being attacked by malevolent forces.

The film opens with a scene you'd expect to see in those cheap, crappy "Faces of Death" videos from the 1980s. A 1993 high school presentation of a play known as "The Gallows" ends in tragedy when the lead is accidentally hanged.

We jump forward 20 years later and the high school is once again staging the play for the 20th anniversary of the tragedy. Let me just stop right here, folks, and say that any school that has ever dreamed about legal ramifications of anything would never go for the re-staging of a play in which a student died years before. I'm all for suspending disbelief in movies, but the central story of "The Gallows" is far fetched to the point of annoyance.

In the 20th anniversary edition of the play, a young jock named Reese (Reese Houser) has been cast in the lead and a girl named Pfeifer (Pfeifer Ross), a budding actress who takes her role very seriously and is considered a ham by her peers, is the other lead performer.

The film, unfortunately, is sort of narrated by Ryan (Ryan Shoos), another jock who has been given the task of filming the rehearsals and actual play. Ryan's persona and dialogue has obviously been created by someone who has never witnessed human beings interacting. His constant stream of "dude" and "bro" sound forced and the rest of his mostly grating dialogue seems only to serve the purpose of a comeuppance we expect to arrive later in the film.

Ryan proposes a prank that involves breaking into the school at night and trashing the set on the night before the show. He enlists Reese, who is unwilling at first due to his secret crush on Pfeifer, and Cassidy (Cassidy Spilker), the stereotypically unpleasant hot girl. Upon entering the school, they also find Pfeifer there as well as the angry spirit of the young man who was hanged 20 years before.

For the rest of the film, the characters do everything you are not supposed to do during a horror film, including checking out creepy noises in dark, deserted classrooms, walking through dark underground lairs and splitting up constantly. All of this leads to a plot twist in the finale that makes less sense the more you think about it.

The found footage horror genre long ago ran out of steam. There has been one very good entry in the genre ("The Blair Witch Project"), a few good ones ("Cloverfield," for example) and a lot of bad ones. A lot. "The Gallows" is on the lower end of that spectrum and is good anecdotal evidence that the horror genre is better served by original concepts and thoughtful material (check out the recent "It Follows" or "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night") than rehashing the same tropes over and over.

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