Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Gallows Review

Just Hanging Around
When a certain film becomes incredibly popular, movie studios tend to take the wrong lessons from the likes of The Dark Knight or Avatar in order to replicate the success of those features. After all, studios such Sony can't guarantee a movie will be as good as Toy Story 3, which is what truly drove that movie to such high box office numbers, but they can guarantee it will be in 3D, just like Toy Story 3, so that's the element they decide to replicate on their own animated movies instead of focusing on making the sort of captivating story that drove Toy Story 3.

The realm of horror cinema has always been susceptible to this trend (how many terrible Friday the 13th knock-offs did Hollywood create in the 80's in order to recapture the success Freddy Kruger was having?), and the found footage trend has been no exception. Instead of realizing audiences were enamored with a massive box office hit like The Blair Witch Project because of its unique scares and minimalist production aesthetic, movie studios believe it's solely the found-footage aspect of the movie that audiences love. That kind of thinking is how you wind up with a movie like The Gallows.

From the start of The Gallows, an inconsistent logic runs through the world the story tries to create. Ryan (Ryan Shoos, who looks too old to be in High School) is a jock/bully type whose the one constantly filming everything that he encounters. Everyone in the cast is played as such a straight up embodiment of a high school archetype (the geek, the theater girl, the cheerleader, etc.) that it feels weird that this fellow whose obviously a jock would be obsessed with lugging a camera around everywhere. A better film would have used his love of filming as a way to subvert the stereotypical aspects of his jock personality; The Gallows just uses it as a maneuver to cram the found footage style of filming into this story.

Ryan and his pal Reese (Reese Mishler) are looking to break into the school at night and sabotage the sets and props of the school play so Reese (whose the lead in the production) won't embarrass himself on stage since he can't remember his lines. The two, who are joined in this crusade by Ryans girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Grifford) and Pfiefer (Pfeifer Brown), soon incur the wrath of Charlie, the spirit of a student who died via a prop malfunction years earlier. Now, to the movies credit, once the vengeance of Charlie comes into play, some legitimately good scares are created simply by utilizing the inherent uncertainty that stems from darkness.

Just looking at a darkened hallway and imagining what could be down there is far more unsettling than any jump scare that The Gallows can come up with (and there are a LOT of jump scares, surprise surprise). But even the occasional well executed scare can't make up for the lousy characters, who range from bland (Reese) to insanely unlikable (Ryan). When Charlie begins to attack the group, I'm not invested in the plight of these characters, I'm just bored and waiting for when the next jump scare will arrive. The filmmakers behind The Gallows obviously took the wrong lessons from the likes of The Blair Witch Project and don't seem to realize that simply having a found-footage format isn't enough to hang an entire motion picture on.

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