Macabre Movie Mausoleum: The Gallows

Welcome back for another dirt nap in the Macabre Movie Mausoleum, my faithful gravediggers and undertakers. Today we look at a movie I had wanted to see in the theaters but missed out on until recently. I invite you to The Gallows, the one millionth entry in the found footage genre, of which I am not a fan, but the trailers did their job and managed to sell me. Read on to see if it's worth a watch or if it’ll make you want to hang yourself.

The Gallows (2015)

Directors: Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing

Starring: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos

As I said a few sentences ago, I’m not a fan of found footage movies. I also don't typically believe in PG-13 horror films, but there was something about the story the trailers were telling that I was into, so I went into The Gallows with tempered excitement. The movie starts with footage of a school play from 1993, where we see the antagonist “Charlie” die during a tragic prop malfunction. Right there, in the first 2 minutes of the movie, everything is laid out before us. There’s no wasted story where there shouldn’t be (not yet, at least). Flash forward twenty years later, and the school drama department is putting on the same play called (you guessed it) "The Gallows." We learn that the school board pushed back against reviving the play for obvious reasons, but I still find it hard to believe they’d ever allow it to happen again. Of course if they didn't, we wouldn't have a movie, so here we are. 

The story revolves around four students. First we have Reese, a player on the football team who signed up for the play to get close to his crush, Pfeifer, the star of the play. Reese’s best friend and star quarterback, Ryan, and Ryan’s girlfriend, Cassidy, are pretty much the only other characters in the movie. A poor sign of the faith the director/writers had in the cast, is that each character is the name of the actor portraying them.

Ryan and Cassidy (who have no love for the play) convince Reese to help destroy the set and props, assuring him that afterwards he’ll be able to console Pfeifer, and probably finally kiss her. While in the middle of the act, Pfeifer stumbles upon them, and the three know they can’t continue. All four go to leave, when they discover the doors are locked from the outside, including the ‘one door that could never close.’

What follows is standard fare jump scares, and story beats that you’d expect from this kind of movie. However, with such a small cast of characters, the film is forced to pace out the kills. For example, on multiple occasions Cassidy is choked by an unseen rope, but she escapes each time.

The group makes their way to a hidden service room where a TV is playing Charlie’s death and police footage of the incident. We learn that Charlie was the understudy for the character that was hanged. He initially wasn’t supposed to be in that position at all. Seeing this, Reese becomes aware of something else. He looks at a picture of the cast of the play from the year that Charlie died, and Reese sees that his father was the student originally in that role. His father backed out, Charlie was put in the new role, and died.

The movie sets this up as a genuine surprise, but it becomes clear this is where they were going during the TV viewing. Even worse, the film tries showing this as Charlie’s motivation for attacking the new students, but it glosses over the fact that Reese’s dad would have died the same tragic death had he not called out. If Charlie is going to be mad and seek vengeance in the afterlife, wouldn’t he want to go after whoever built the gallows set? Even worse-r, is that the school board and drama department thought it would be smart casting Reese in the same role his father was supposed to play when all of this happened.

Following these revelations, Charlie is able to kill both Ryan and Cassidy. Both were good death scenes, but they didn’t deliver on the buildup of the movie finally executing someone. Eventually, Reese and Pfeifer find an open door, the previously locked door that couldn’t close, and make their way out. Reese realizes that Pfeifer isn’t with him, and assumes Charlie must have grabbed her. Going back in, the two are on the stage where they are meant to have the climax scene of the play. Reese understands that the only way to save Pfeifer is to sacrifice himself to Charlie, by acting out the scene. The duo do so, and Charlie hangs Reese, sparing Pfeifer.

Police footage shows us that Pfeifer is the daughter of an actress in the original play Charlie died in, and her father is Charlie himself. The whole movie was a ploy for Charlie to get his revenge on Reese’s father by killing Reese in the same fashion he died.

On to the rating...

This movie suffered from two major flaws. First, such a small cast of characters limits the amount of deaths the movie could have. It made for a tighter story and a truncated runtime, which are both good things, but another pair of friends could have kept things focused while adding some much-needed blood. Second (and for me the bigger issue) is the need for the directors to add a ‘twist’ into the movie. It makes no sense for the town/school to allow this play to happen again, but even ignoring that, it is impossible to believe they would allow Reese or Pfeifer to play the roles their parents played. It was unnecessary to create this lineage amongst the characters, and instead could have Charlie’s motives either being to kill everyone involved in bringing the play that killed him back, or simply attacking the kids who were trashing the set, defending his last memory.

None of the actors brought anything special to the table, and after a quick IMDB search, none of them have really done anything before or since. All four are good-looking young people, and I could easily seem them landing more roles, but I don’t expect much from their careers.

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