THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
The story behind The Gallows is more entertaining than The Gallows itself. A few years ago, the filmmaking team of Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing produced a low-budget, homemade found footage horror movie, hoping it would attract some notice. Their film caught the attention of Blumhouse, a production company known for making inexpensive (and often wildly profitable) fright flicks like Paranormal Activity and The Purge. Blumhouse offered to put up some money so that Cluff and Lofing could reshoot sections of The Gallows to make it more big screen-ready. Once that happened, the updated version was picked up by the Warner Bros.-owned New Line Cinema, and released nationwide in the summer of 2015, where it performed respectably given its meager budget. The movie hits DVD and Blu-Ray on October 13.
After the obligatory on-screen disclaimer designed to suggest that what we are about to see is real, The Gallows tells the story of Reese (Reese Mishler), a high school jock who has joined the cast of the school play in order to get close to his crush, Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). His best friend Ryan (Ryan Shoos) mocks him incessantly – and always on the video camera he perpetually has turned on. Eventually, all the ribbing gets to Reese, and he decides that the only way to get out of the play without losing face is to break into the auditorium late at night and destroy the sets. Ryan and his girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford, daughter of Kathie Lee and the late Frank Gifford) come to help. Once inside, they run into Pfeifer. Then trouble really starts. Twenty years earlier, during a production of the same play, a student was accidentally hanged in an onstage mishap. His noose-carrying ghost is still in the rafters, determined to make sure the show goes on.
One of the big problems with found footage movies is that it's very difficult to tell a proper story in the format. By nature, the entire gimmick is about setting up the “realistic” scare scenes, rather than creating a plot that contains structure and nuance. The Gallows, like most found footage entries, is just a situation that the characters repeatedly deal with. There's no true dramatic escalation, just an escalation of that situation's seriousness. You certainly don't care about whether Reese will get together with Pfeifer, or whether he'll stick with the play.
Another, equally troublesome problem is that – as I say just about every time I review one of these things – found footage movies almost always devolve into shaky-cam confusion. The Gallows falls prey to this, as well. If you're a connoisseur of blurry images of floors and feet, then this is the motion picture you've been waiting for.
Finally, found footage always requires people to keep their cameras rolling at times when it's foolish to do so. And that is really a problem here. The film strains to find reasons for a camera to be rolling, to the point that it becomes a fatal distraction. Most people, if being chased through a dark school by a malevolent figure, would put down the device that lights up when it's on. Not these kids. They just keep on filming, even when doing things that require two hands, like climbing ladders.
The Gallows has a couple decent “money shots” of people meeting their horrendous fates, but that's really all. Otherwise, this is a formulaic, routine, and completely uninspired found footage tale.
( out of four)
Amazingly, the bonus features on this not-very-good movie are pretty solid. Cluff and Lofing – who seem like really nice guys – introduce the original version of The Gallows, which is presented here in its entirety. Some of the scenes have been carried over into the release version, but a lot of them are much different, including the ending. Also, one of the lead actresses was recast, with Gifford now playing the role. Having both versions on the same disc was a great idea, as it really allows you to study the way the movie was changed.
“The Gallows: Surviving the Noose” is a conversation between the directors and Blumhouse chief Jason Blum. They talk about the movie's strange-but-true origins (an accidental hanging in Lofing's hometown), the process of altering their own film, and Cluff's pre-movie victory on the TV game show Wipeout. This is a loose, enjoyable talk that provides a lot of information.
“Charlie: Every School Has Its Spirit” looks at how the directors frightened a group of extras for one key scene, then used similar tactics to scare the actors during filming. They also claim that bizarre paranormal things happened on set, but given their proclivity for staging scares, that's likely a dubious claim. Nonetheless, it's fun to hear about the methods they used to get authentic reactions from their cast members.
Also here are about 18 minutes of deleted scenes, three different trailers (including the one that attracted Blumhouse's interest) and a gag reel (notable mostly for a prank pulled on Cassidy Gifford).
In the end, The Gallows is not a great movie, but the bonus features give a pretty useful glimpse into how low-budget filmmakers enter a bigger ring. The Blu-Ray is worthy in that regard.
The Gallows is rated R for some disturbing violent content and terror. (It should be noted that there are PG-13 movies far more graphic than this one.) The running time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.
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