Review: ‘The Gallows’ (Respect Mah Thea-tah!)

All the shaky cam and low battery signals you could want in yet another found-footage film.

In 1993, a Nebraska high school put on a stage play involving a hanging…so, of course, one of the students is actually killed by (wait for it) hanging. Two decades later, a group of fools…sorry, STUDENTS revive the deadly play for “reasons.” Even worse, Theatre is a required class, providing the perfect opportunity for stereotypical jocks to screw everything up…also because “reasons.” To make matters worse, one of the jocks has fallen for one of the drama students; what terrible tragedy could possibly befall them? Spoiler: rope is involved…around necks.

A high school theater at night? Sounds like a great location for a horror film: hidden rooms, secret passageways, places to fall from and disappear into, audio-visual equipment, trap doors, and costume closets. Sure, it’s all a little meta, like those award-nominated movies about Hollywood has-beens trying to become relevant again (Birdman, anyone?) but is this the best we can come up with? The lighting looks okay and the acting is good enough, but wow…the excuses for using found footage has officially hit a new low; last I checked, you didn’t have to turn on your phone’s camera to use the flashlight feature. Also, are teens so narcissistic today that they film themselves crying into their phones waiting to be killed off? Yeah, not buying that either. Oh wait: most of the cast is actually named after themselves. Really? Maybe they should have called this “The Shallows.”

Seriously, no high school where a student was killed during a stage play would ever permit that play to be performed again – out of respect for the dead and everyone affected in the community – let alone allow the same prop instrumental in that death to be rebuilt: an actual gallows! The other big issue is the motivation for why revenge is being taken 22 years later; if you’re going to play the sins-of-the-parent card, shouldn’t the sin be intentional or at least unforgivably negligent? Whether we’re talking about a maniac reliving their past or a local poltergeist punishing the naysayers, motivation should be clear when it’s time for your grand finale. If the filmmakers were holding back those juicy bits for the inevitable sequel, that was a mistake; it reduces the big bad to meaningless.

There are a number of things that could have vastly improved the story here. One would be the inclusion of more victims; send in the nerds! The happenstance of innocent but well-meaning Pfeifer showing up just in time for the trap to close could have easily been extended to a few techies and a higher body count – hey, their rules! Additional and more significant clues could have been seeded in short interviews shown at the beginning of the first act. With so much opportunity, was a better script or different footage filmed and then scrapped in the name of some executive saying “can we make it scarier?” If you want a better excuse to use handheld cam for an entire film, go back and watch Project Almanac; it was scarier anyway.

(one skull recommendation out of four)

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