I have spent quite a while defending found footage films. I found something to like in all of the Paranormal Activity films (even the unnecessary fifth installment), and I even thought Unfriended had an interesting idea. I had been looking forward to The Gallows ever since I saw a first glimpse at Wondercon. That scene of the girl getting pulled by a mysterious noose around her neck seemed frightening and gripping (get it?).
Unfortunately, that was the only thing that was worth watching. The rest of the film was dull as dirt and didn’t have many (if any) redeeming qualities.
Directed and written by Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff, The Gallows opens with footage from a school play in 1993. Instead of being hanged just for show, the gallows’ noose contraption fails and one of the actors (Charles Grimille) dies for real. Twenty years later, the school decides to stage the production once again. A few students decide to trash the production by sneaking into the school late at night, but are locked in by a mysterious force and desperately try to find their way out.
The premise is what had me looking forward to this film for months. A dark and empty school–it sounded so bleak and claustrophobic.
What bothered me the most about this film is that I didn’t know if the directors were completely inept or if they thought the audience was dumb. First off, not only were the characters completely unlikeable, but they were also unrealistic. It’s as if the they went onto the internet and looked up the most cliche tropes for high school students. The jock, Ryan, is a jerk who tortures drama kids; Ryan’s girlfriend, Cassidy, is a typical cheerleader; Ryan’s friend, Reese, is also a football player who is ridiculed for not only wanting to be in the school play, but also for having a crush on Pfiefer, a “drama geek.” And with the ridiculous stereotypes comes the horrible dialogue as well. Every time any one of these characters spoke, I found myself rolling my eyes and double checking what year it was. I’m not sure when Lofing or Cluff were last in high school, or even when they last spoke to a teenager, but I think they were a couple decades off.
Scare-wise, the film had potential, but it used very cookie-cutter traits to approach it. From the infamous decision to split up to the cut phone lines, it felt like Lofing and Cluff just wanted to play it safe. I don’t think there was a genre trope that they didn’t use. Even the jump scares felt cheap, with loud noises being the substitute for the ghost. There were some decent shots that felt genuinely spooky and claustrophobic, but they were undermined by constant spinning of the camera. It was supposed to keep me on my toes and uncomfortable, but I mainly just felt dizzy and annoyed with the constant stalling. It also didn’t help the fact that a lot of the times the camera was pointed down at their feet. I didn’t see any point in it except to have me constantly wondering where the actors got their shoes from.
I was genuinely hoping that a super awesome twist ending would change my mind, but, as I predicted, it didn’t. In fact, it may have made my opinion worse. I’m going to be honest: I predicted how this film was going to end in the first five minutes. I was hoping that it was going to be something different, because it was literally thrown in my face like a steaming sack of shit. Despite the predictability, the unraveling was quite intriguing to watch, and the climax was fun. If it had ended there, I might have come out of this film feeling differently. But no. There had to be one more scene explaining why the ending happened.
There are definitely better found footage films that can successfully mimic what The Gallows failed to do (a good example would be The Blair Witch Project or even Grave Encounters). As a short film, The Gallows might have been able to pull through, but as an 88 minute film, they might as well have tied a noose for the audience.