In 1993, a group of students at Beatrice High School put on a play called The Gallows. One of the actors named Charlie Grimille (Jesse Cross) that was playing the lead character Augustus died during the performance when a simulated hanging failed. His parents were videotaping the show and captured the accident. Twenty years later, the students of Beatrice High are putting the play on again despite some initial resistance from the school board. Portraying the role of Augustus is Reese Houser (Reese Mishler), a former football player who quit the team to star in the play. He secret harbors a crush on his lead actress Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown) but has yet to express his feelings to her. Reese’s friend Ryan (Ryan Shoos) is recording the play from the control booth but considers all this drama stuff to be silly and spends a great deal of his time ridiculing the cast and crew. Reese isn’t a very good actor and Ryan suggests to him they go back to the school late at night and destroy the set so the play is cancelled. Ryan thinks this will give Reese a chance to console Pfeifer and possibly spark their romance. Reese, Ryan and Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) head to the school and enter through a stage door that Ryan discovered doesn’t lock. Once inside they begin destroying and dismantling the set. A noise alerts them to the presence of Pfeifer who noticed Reese’s car in the school parking lot. Reese lies and says they were there to rehearse. Returning to the stage, the four find all their damage has been undone. The door with the broken lock is now locked and strange noises seem to be emanating from the darkened school. Their cellphones have no service and no lights work in any part of the school except for the red stage lights. While looking for an exit they stumble into a service room that has an old TV and VCR showing a news report of Charlie’s death. When it ends, they discover there is no videotape in the player. Reese notices something in the report and runs to the main entry hall where a display contains a photo of the original 1993 cast. Reese studies the photo and is stunned to see his father was part of that cast. He was originally supposed to play Augustus but pulled out just before the first performance. His understudy, Charlie, was supposed to play the hooded hangman but ended up filling in and died as a result. Is Charlie’s ghost haunting the performance with revenge in mind?
The answer is “of course” and the real question is if “The Gallows” manages to create a villainous ghost that manages to scare audiences enough to make it worthwhile. The answer there is “no,” from me anyway. “The Gallows” is a cheaply produced, badly acted and poorly written found-footage horror film that lacks any consistent tension and has very few real scares. It isn’t good enough to seriously recommend and isn’t bad enough to watch ironically. It’s just not worth your time.
“The Gallows” features a completely no-name cast. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but this cast features mostly annoying players. Ryan Shoos, whose character name is Ryan Shoos, plays the grating friend of Reese, the film’s lead character. I wanted him to die from the first moments he began providing his cameraman’s narration. Ryan (the character, not the actor) is the smartass that is far too cool for the company he keeps. He doesn’t mind putting the drama nerds in their place and becomes physically violent when they stand up for themselves. The character has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and his demise takes far too long in a movie that feels lengthier than its listed 80-minute running time.
Reese Mishler’s Reese Houser is about the only character that appears to have some sense of decency. While his only motive for doing the play is to get close to his love interest, Reese also feels an obligation to follow through with his role despite stage fright and a lack of any acting talent. While he goes along with Ryan’s plan the character seems to do so with at least a small amount of guilt.
Cassidy Gifford’s Cassidy Spilker (yup, that’s the character’s name) is your stereotypical movie hot cheerleader type that is a bad girl through and through. She, like Ryan, also thinks the whole drama requirement for graduation is lame and eagerly joins in the planned carnage of the set. The character isn’t much more than eye candy as she is made a sexual object by Ryan and wears fairly revealing clothes. Cassidy is mainly on screen to either look at in lust or to watch be attacked by the ghost.
Pfeifer Brown plays Pfeifer Ross (gotta love these imaginative character names) like a starlet in the making. She is the queen of the drama class and knows it. While she may actually have some talent within the movie’s reality, she takes it all far too seriously and is an annoying character. All in all, the movie focuses on four people and three of them are often painful to watch.
The found-footage format is a deal breaker for many horror fans. I personally like the style if it makes sense. For “The Gallows” it doesn’t. Of course there are several shots that would never be naturally created with either a camcorder or a cell phone. Visuals from both are used to tell the story of “The Gallows.” Sometimes we see events from one source then see what was going on at another source at the same time. It fills in some details missing from the other video. That’s a nice touch that’s often missing from other similarly shot movies. Sadly, there are frequent scenes where the perfectly centered character would likely not be so well framed just as something horrible happened to them. Since the phones featured in the movie appear to be iPhones, the shots where the phone is roughly set down on a surface but still manages to be pointed at the action seems a bit farcical. Even in a protective case, it takes some effort to make sure the device remains upright and doesn’t fall on its face or back. If this was true found footage, the audience would see many close-ups of palms and fingers or still shots of ceilings.
This is one of those times where I think too logically about a plot point but this next bit really stuck out to me: In the 21st century the idea there’s a high school anywhere in America that doesn’t have a burglar alarm is ludicrous. These characters run through the halls of their school, screaming and calling for help and trying to get in every door and not one alarm goes off. I went to high school in the 1970’s and my school had motion and audio sensor alarms. I actually set them off one night when I went to the room of a teacher, with his permission, to get some scripts for a play we were doing. Yes, it was a drama class. The police showed up but since I was with a teacher and several other students there weren’t any charges filed. This was in 1979. Seeing these characters running around a modern high school and not getting stopped at gunpoint by the police felt completely unrealistic and was stuck in my brain for the whole movie. I know it’s a ghost story and, if it had been a better movie, I would have been completely willing to let the supernatural aspect of the film go by with no question; but this may be my biggest issue with “The Gallows” aside from the bad acting and the minimal scares.
“The Gallows” is rated R for terror and disturbing violent content. OK, if the MPAA says so. There are a few jump scares, a couple of which have nothing to do with the ghost. We see a couple of people jerked up via a noose by their necks into the ceiling of the building. One character has bruises on the neck that get progressively worse as the story goes along. We get a look at a couple of dead people hanging in the rafters. We see the hanging of two people on the stage. Foul language is scattered.
According to its Wikipedia page, “The Gallows” was made for about $100,000.00 and it looks it. There is very little in the way of special effects and since most of it was shot in darkened rooms set decoration could be kept at a minimum. As of Saturday, July 11, 2015, the movie has made over $4-million and is predicted to have a $10-million opening weekend. While it will open well behind films like “Minions” and the seemingly unstoppable “Jurassic World” and “Inside Out,” it has more than made back its money and could become one of those low-budget horror franchises like “Paranormal Activity” and “Saw.” To me, more “The Gallows” films would be a true horror unless the story and acting is improved and the scares are amped up. To be honest, I’m more than a little angry to have given this junk my money.