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The Gallows

by on July 9, 2015
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Inside image for The Gallows (2015)

“The Gallows” is somewhat a rarity in modern-day horror, in that it’s actually, genuinely frightening. The independent found-footage film has all the right ingredients: the restaging of a high school play that went horribly wrong, small-town Americana gone bloody and, best of all, an abandoned theater late at night where floorboards creak, doors open and close at will and the play’s set prominently features a noose. At its best, “The Gallows” inspires a jumpy fear, but at its worst it inspires loud snickering.

In 1993, a small Nebraska town was rocked to its core when the lead in the high school production of (you guessed it) “The Gallows” perished onstage on opening night. Twenty years later, student director Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown) is also the enthusiastic lead in the show’s revival, playing opposite Reese (Reese Mishler), a former jock who harbors a secret crush on Pfeifer. When Reese’s obnoxious friend Ryan (Ryan Shoos) convinces him to break into the school and destroy the set — with Ryan’s girlfriend (Cassidy Gifford) along for the ride — things take a turn for the bloody.

The main issue with “The Gallows” is not its premise or atmosphere, as both work quite well. Theaters are inherently creepy, and many are indeed rife with their own ghosts and legends. However, the found-footage aspect, while aesthetically excellent, is unbelievable in this context. Found footage must have a motivation, like “The Blair Witch Project’s” student film, “Paranormal Activity’s” aim to catch an evil spirit in the act, and “Cloverfield’s” goodbye-party video. Why would anyone, even the dumbest of dumb jocks like Ryan, want to incriminate themselves by taping a break-in and subsequent act of vandalism? Even as I shrieked in my seat, I couldn’t quite get past this plot hole.

There’s a lot to like about “The Gallows.” Everyone’s either seen or been in a bad play, wondered what their school looked like at night or acted dumb as a teenager. “The Gallows” creates the type of existential dread not often found in modern horror movies, using a simple setting for maximum chills. If only the found-footage format had either been explained away or not used at all (I would have preferred the former), “The Gallows” would be more of a diamond with less of the rough.



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