When will Hollywood stop with the found footage horror film? Better yet, when will audiences stop paying for them? The Blair Witch Project is now over 16 years old and yet filmmakers can’t give up on its on-the-cheap lottery leanings. A quick $5 million spent and you can reap untold, Paranormal Activity-esque rewards — and for some reason, the gullible genre crowd buys into it every time. The latest example of this ruse gone rotten is The Gallows. Oh, it’s a perfectly serviceable slasher film which sees a group of teen victim fodder face off against a past come to cruel life, but the device used to capture the fear turns any attempt at atmosphere and dread into a collection of derivative jump scares.
We start way back in the ’90s, with a couple of parents videotaping their son’s performance in a play. One tragic accident later and we have our ersatz Jason. Fast forward to now and a group of horribly obnoxious campus cliches — Ryan (Ryan Shoos), a football jock head who is being forced to take drama and document the latest production with his ever-present camera, his mandatory hot chick girlfriend (Cassidy Gifford), and best buddy Reese (Reese Mishler), who also happens to be the star of the show and has a crush on his leading lady, the snooty Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown) — find themselves locked in the same school where the kid died. As with all legends, they become the cordwood for this faux-Freddy to stack, myths becoming maniacs while Ryan’s lens captures is all.
The Gallows is nothing more than a dark ride given a high tech, low rent revamp. You know the kind — a carnival barker approach to getting you in the attraction, followed by a wandering around in a mostly lightless environment. Every once in a while, something jumps out of the dim, giving you a momentary start before the next jolt comes around. In the end, you feel shocked, but not really scared. Nothing remains, no characters nor circumstances. It’s the celluloid equivalent of an extreme sport. It feels dangerous during the experience, but has no real lasting effect.
The sad thing is that filmmakers Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing have spent a few years on this project, allowed to tweak it here and there over the course of its elongated production and drive toward distribution. That means this is the best they could do, and while the core idea might have some value, the execution is awful. It’s all shaky-cam chaos, things that go a bit louder than “bump” in the night sending the audience under their seats in fits of group hysteria. The empty school setting can be a bit creepy, but the directors do very little with it. A shadowy figure at the end of an unlit corridor has an initial impact, but once our actors start running around with a camcorder in their hand, we lose the threat, and thus, the fear.
The Gallows continues the subgenre’s constant violation of the “Why?” rule. Why hold the camera directly on your friends’ faces as they are playing mouse to the killer’s cat? Why, when an actual danger comes your way, don’t you simply drop the recording device and run like hell? Why is there never good cellphone reception in a place that, during the day, sees adolescents on their iPhones and Androids like so many tech zombies? And why does the ending have to be so unfathomably stupid, offering a “twist” that not only tries your patience, but your ability to draw logical conclusions from the rest of the plot?
Sure, if all you want from your 81 minutes of terror is a bunch of jumps and starts with little or no sense of mood or menace, then The Gallows will satisfy you. If you think horror should be something more than a subpar state fair sideshow, you’ll want off this ridiculous ride long before it ends.