Over the last couple of years a few movies have come along to remind us how good found footage horror can be; The Borderlands, Creep and Willow Creek to name a few. The reason why genre fans are prone to groaning at the phrase “found footage” is that it’s too often used to mask shortcomings both in front of and behind the camera, and that never works. You can’t mask a shoddy script or bad performances with a shaky camera and “realism.”
In 1993, a school production of play The Gallows ends in tragedy when a stage noose goes wrong, taking the life of poor Charlie Grimille. 20 years later, and the drama department is resurrecting the play. Leading lady Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown) is determined to make it a success, but jock leading man Reese (Reese Mishler) can’t get his lines right no matter how hard he tries.
In an attempt to save his buddy from embarrassment and cause some hilarious mischief, Ryan (Ryan Shoos) decides that he, Reese and Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) should break into the school and destroy the set. Getting in is easy, but getting out will be harder…
After fellow Blumhouse horror Unfriended surprised us following a terrible trailer, we had hoped that The Gallows would follow suit. Sadly, this high school horror from writer-director duo Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing lacks that film’s ingenuity and mean streak.
Following an effective nerve-jangle of an opener, which uses parent camcorder footage to good effect, The Gallows makes the switch to Ryan’s camera, and he acts as our narrator for the bulk of the film. Ryan is the most obnoxious and unlikeable of an unlikeable group, so unlikeable, in fact, that we wondered if the script was going to play a surprising switch. That doesn’t happen, and we’re stuck with our leads for the duration.
Which wouldn’t be a problem if the script had more to offer beyond jump scares and running around in the dark. The location is occasionally used to good effect, but terrible dialogue consistently dispels tension, as Ryan explains what the characters are looking at for the benefit of the viewer and to the detriment of the horror.
There are plenty of jump scares which might satisfy the Friday night crowd, but if you’re a genre fan looking for a pleasant surprise, you won’t find one here.