20 years after a horrific accident during a small town school play, students at the school resurrect the failed show in a misguided attempt to honor the anniversary of the tragedy – but soon discover that some things are better left alone.
The one filmmaking method utilized in movies these days that I literally despise, is the handheld jerky camera technique. While it may have worked for films such as “The Blair Witch project” and the first few “Paranormal Activity” movies, overall, I find it a lazy approach to making a film. I have seen so much rubbish that has passed for ‘horror movies’ which employed this technique and for most of the movie, all you could see was the cameraman’s feet or the camera rocking up and down, repeatedly, as the characters ran away from whatever it was that was chasing them. When I first saw the trailer for “The Gallows,” my first response was to give the press invite to one of my other reviewers but when I watched it again, something changed my mind so I decided to give it a chance.
I’m glad I did. The story is what actually kept the film going for me. While the handheld technique does permeate throughout the film, it is done in such a way that it doesn’t induce nausea, like so many other movies of its ilk. The camerawork is, for the most part, stable and that is what made the film watchable. The story begins in 1993 with the production of a small town school play called “The Gallows.” During a vital scene in which one of the male characters, Charlie, has a noose hung around his neck, the trapdoor accidentally opens and while cast and crew scurry to try and rescue him, he dies and the play is never spoken of again. Until now. It is the present and the school has decided that it has been long enough and decide to put on a new production of the play.
The night before the performance, one of the cast members is talked into breaking into the theatre and trashing the stage with a few friends, just for fun, laughing off the legend of Charlie as a hoax but when they try to leave afterwards, all the doors and windows are locked. As strange things start happening and the group begins to disappear one by one, they come to the gradual realization that Charlie may not be a myth after all and struggle to survive the remainder of the night. Having come from a background in stage production, I really enjoyed watching the behind-the-scenes of the play and while a theatre can be a place of great jubilation, joyous music or heartbreaking drama, when the hall empties out and the lights fade, it can be truly creepy and mysterious.
The acting for the most part, was satisfactory and directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing do a commendable job with the scare factor, owing much of their atmosphere to auteurs like John Carpenter and George Romero. They successfully manage to create tension with long, deliberate tracking shots that purposely take their time in generating the desired effect, whether it be a figure in the background, progressively appearing out of the darkness or an extreme wide shot of a dimly-lit room, hinting that at any moment, something is going to jump out of the shadows, never to materialize but leaving you hanging on. Based on this movie, I look forward, with great enthusiasm, to Mr. Cluff’s and Mr. Lofing’s next feature.
In theaters July 10th
For more info on James visit his website at www.IrishFilmCritic.com