Synopsis – 20 years after a horrific accident during a small town school play, students at the school resurrect the failed show in a misguided attempt to honor the anniversary of the tragedy – but soon discover that some things are better left alone.
My Take – During the whole run time of this found footage supernatural film, the only thought which kept running in my head was – why would Warner Bros & producer Jason Blum‘s Blum House Productions back this film? The plot is not innovative, nor is the technical involvement! I always said a horror movie doesn’t always need blood, gore, nudity etc long as it has a great story behind it a story that does not leave more questions then answers. This movie lacks that as you get more questions then you do answers. Great marketing and a little controversy can make a mediocre movie more successful. We’ve all seen it time and time again, but rarely so effectively as with this film. Whether the film’s producers have anything to do with the controversy over whether there really was a Charlie Grimille who died during a play, they did do some other things that were pretty smart. In one of the movie’s trailers (which is the one featured on their website), the filmmakers slyly allude to the “Charlie Charlie Challenge” pencil game, which some people believe has paranormal connotations. The game appeared in Europe back in 2008, but only became popular in the U.S. in 2015, leading many people to think that the game was created for the movie. And in that same trailer, the music includes a creepy new arrangement of Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit“. That song came out just two years before the events at the beginning of the film and the song’s title and lyrics fit perfectly with this movie. Then there’s the movie poster. The only color it uses is red, a color not very prominent in many movie posters today, but very suggestive of blood and danger. The poster’s main image is a girl who looks like she’s scared and crying, making the potential moviegoer wonder what happened to her – or what might be about to come out of those red and black shadows to do her harm.
Now, only if the movie were as effective as the publicity surrounding it. The story follows an event Beatrice High School somewhere in Nebraska in 1993, when a character named Charlie Grimille is performing in a play called “The Gallows” and suffers the same fate as the Charlie Grimille in the story from 1983. As an implausible prop malfunction occurs, Charlie is hung to death. Twenty years after Charlie’s death, the school is bringing back the play. Most of the video we see is shot by a character named Ryan (Ryan Shoos). Ryan’s off-camera commentary mocks the play and those involved with it, including his best friend, and fellow football player, Reese Houser (Reese Mishler). Reese is only in the play so he can be close to his high school crush, Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Since Reese isn’t a very good actor and really doesn’t care about the play itself, Ryan suggests that they break into the school the night before the play and tear up the set. That way, Reese doesn’t have to embarrass himself in front of the whole town and he can “comfort” Pfeifer, who would obviously be in great distress over the show’s demise. Ryan’s cheerleader girlfriend, Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) insists on joining in, and so, a plan is made. Of course, this being a horror movie with the memory of a tragic death looming in the background, breaking up the set doesn’t exactly go as planned and there seems to be someone or something wanting to make these teens pay for their disrespect of the theater. The three have barely started messing up the stage when Pfeifer shows up. Reese makes up an excuse to explain his presence there and the vandals decide to just leave. They soon find that every exterior door is locked and no one has cell service. That’s when they start hearing noises that can’t be explained, doors start slamming, TVs turn on and off on their own and the teens find out that the school has some corridors and corners that are very scary – especially in the dark. The only questions that remain are who is doing all this and how many of these four potential victims will make it out of the school alive – if any of them do. A random assemblage of ideas, without a cohesive, single story line to tie all of them together, this tells the contrived and implausible story of high school students locked in the building late one night, and being hunted by a supernatural entity, possibly the (now fully grown) ghost of a kid who was accidentally hanged during a production twenty years earlier.
But if it’s his ghost, how has he grown to a full sized adult? And it was far too coincidental that the group ended up at the school on the night of the anniversary of his death, gaining entry through an unlocked door, which has allegedly been broken for an extended time, without anyone having made any attempt to repair it. And why did this ghost want to kill the son of the guy who he blamed for his death twenty years earlier? If it was the older woman, shown briefly early on, then again, how did she know they would be at the school on that night? Why didn’t she try to kill him/ them earlier, she had plenty of opportunities? If this guy, Charlie, is a ghost, why did he need the woman and/ or her daughter to get them to the school so he could go after them? And why did he attack the cops at the very end? Did he not figure that would draw attention to the woman and her daughter? And again, if Charlie can leave the school to kill, why did he have to wait until the son of the guy he blamed for his death went there on, coincidentally, the twenty years anniversary of his death, to kill him? I didn’t mind the shaky-cam, what I minded was the fact that the plot made no sense, even for a low budget horror film, and the nonsensical plot took far too long to get going. There was a bit of atmospherics in the second act; the school itself was creepy, as the group wandered the darkly lit, empty corridors, but again, the plot was a complete mess, a desperate attempt at setting up another horror series, like Friday the 13th. Even the line “Don’t say his name!” seemed like a desperate attempt at creating the obligatory, seemingly contractually obligated catchphrase. On the whole, ‘The Gallows‘ is a perfect example of why found footage films have earned a bad reputation! This claustrophobic, low-budget, found-footage, horror chiller keeps you hanging for 80 minutes without anything that might qualify as either haunting or harrowing, just painful cheesiness.
Rated – R
Run Time – 81 minutes