ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

In 1993, a student of Beatrice High School named Charlie Grimille was killed in a horrific accident while performing in the school production of The Gallows. Twenty years later – in what would be the first of many misguided decisions made throughout the course of this film – the drama club has resurrected the failed play as a way of honoring the 20th anniversary of the school tragedy.

You know, kind like if on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 next year, we honor the tragedy by having a plane just barely miss the One World Trade Center.

When a few of the students – Ryan (Ryan Shoos), Cassidy Spilker (Cassidy Gifford) and reluctant star of the play Reese Houser (Reese Mishler) – break into the school to vandalize the set, they soon realize they’re not alone and this certain other “someone” isn’t so keen on their blatant disrespect for the dead.


Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown), the other star of the show. Come on, who else would it be?


Oh, yeah, and that Charlie Grimille ghost wants to kill them all too.

Once again, 21st century horror magnate Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions is at it again. We all can say what we want about his hit-or-miss filmography, but as a producer the man’s somewhat of a genius in how he can churn out a film for $5 and make $500 million back. The Gallows marks what has to be the 286th film his name and production company’s been attached to in just 2015 alone.

Of course, I wasn’t expecting much from this; it looked like just another crappy found footage flick. But if we hop into our DeLorean, gun it to 88 mph and zoom back to a couple months ago, I believe I said the very same about Unfriended (another Blumhouse Productions picture), and I was really taken by surprise with that little flick. See, a film like Unfriended is a perfect example of the adage “never say never”.

Something you will never hear said about The Gallows.

Underneath all the crap that bogs this film down, there’s a simple but effective idea that carries potential, and one of the few – and I mean very, very, very, very few – things co-writer/directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff do right is take full advantage of the limited school setting and use it to set up a suitably creepy atmosphere. Another clever gimmick of theirs is the use of multiple cameras (e.g., handheld camera, cellphone camera, etc.) that provide a different perspective without cheating within the format.

Having said that, it’s a shame those very few core strengths are surrounded by such an atrocious script.

For starters, despite some solid performance work, these characters hardly give us any reason at all to care whether or not they survive. One in particular, Ryan, is such an obnoxious dickhead from the very second he appears onscreen at the beginning of the film, and he doesn’t letup at any moment. He picks on the nerdy production crew kids, makes fun of the drama club girls as being ugly, knocks on his friend Reese for liking Pfeifer for reasons that I’m sure are far from rational (Pfeifer never once gave me the impression she’s the raging bitch the others, save Reese, think she is) and is practically begging for this Charlie Grimille ghost to kick his ass. Yet we’re somehow supposed to feel sorry for him when he dies. The kid’s 10x a prick than I could ever be, and that he’s also 20x more an idiot than he is a prick doesn’t help the situation any.

Yes, watching him die (not a spoiler if you know the “who dies and who survives” tropes of horror movies) generated more elation in me than sympathy.

On top of the poor characters, Lofing and Cluff throw in a twist at the end of the film that’s the type of nonsensical twist I would’ve thought was so cool and clever and would’ve had this film skyrocket to the top of my favorite films of all-time list when I was fourteen. You know the kinda twist I’m talking about. Not The Empire Strikes Back kinda twist. Not The Sixth Sense kinda twist. Not The Usual Suspects kinda twist. The “Hey that’s a cool twist – two seconds later – hey wait a minute… what?” kinda twist. I’m certain it was meant to beef up the mythology, but not only does it demand the characters be complete morons for never knowing anything about these big reveals, especially since it involves those close to them, it actually creates plot holes big enough to hold a city-wide swimming party in.

I’m not sure why I’m withholding the reveal to you as if I’m gonna wind up recommending this at the end of the review. I guess I’m just a nice guy. That prick Ryan would’ve totally spoiled it for you.

Of course, and I’m only beating a dead horse here, these problems might be forgivable if the film can be scary. Lofing and Cluff do provide one Hitchcock inspired moment midway through the film where the kids are listening to the slow thud of footsteps pass by on the floor above them, but other than that, it’s the same tiresome loud sound effects. Nothing remotely frightening to accompany the sound effects, just sound effects loud enough to startle you. Why put the effort into genuinely scaring the crap out of us when you can insert a loud “BOOM!”, “BAM!”, “SLAM!” or “THUD!!” and call it good?

It’s like clockwork here. Pan to the left, pan to the right, pan back to the left, pan back to the right – “BOOM!”, there’s your sound effect. Not scary.

Although they do make good wake-up calls for those who understandably might nod off at any point during the film.

The Gallows has an effective atmosphere, a couple good gimmicks, and some decent performances, but overall they’re far from enough to make up for the paper thin characters, and eye-rolling plot turns. Most of all, this miss from the House of Blum suffers from a lack of earned tension and suspense, resorting to cheap, predictable jump scares that waste anything good this film may have had to offer.

I give The Gallows a D+ (★½).

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