Congratulations are in order for horror producer Jason Blum, of Blumhouse—the people who brought you Paranormal Activity and Insidious, as every ad campaign of every movie they release is quick to remind you—as well as the writing and directing duo of Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing and everyone involved with the making of The Gallows. It’s not every movie that reaches bold new heights, so when one breaks boundaries I like to give credit where credit is due. The Gallows absolutely shattered my perceptions and expectations of just how terrible a movie can be, and it does so consistently throughout. Anytime I thought to myself, “It can’t possibly get any worse than it already has” it proved me wrong, defiantly challenging me as if to say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” I left the theater stunned and in awe, unable to combat the intelligence atrophying effects of the millions of brain cells that died as a result of watching this movie. Point in fact, given the choice between having to watch The Gallows another time and being led up the steps of an actual gallows to be hanged before a blood thirsty mob, I’m not entirely sure what my decision would be. Yes, it’s that bad.
Like all found footage horror—a sub-genre I’m not entirely opposed to, I should add, lest I be accused of mere cynicism—it starts with a simple premise. Twenty years ago, during a high school production of a play called “The Gallows,” a student named Charlie is accidentally hanged in a tragic accident. Now, two decades later, in a move that baffles the notion of propriety and good taste, the same high school has elected to stage the same play once again. The school casts football player Reese (played by Reese Mishler) in the role that took Charlie’s life, much to the dismay of his jock, dude-bro best friend Ryan (Ryan Shoos) who makes no bones about his friend’s descent into loserdom by being in a play. Reese, for his part, is racked by nervousness as opening night approaches and Ryan plays off his trepidations by suggesting that if they break into the school at night to destroy the set then the school won’t be able to stage the production. The duo are joined by Ryan’s girlfriend, Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford…are we noticing a pattern yet?) in their surreptitious attempts at subterfuge, much to the displeasure of the none-too-happy ghost of Charlie, who torments the teens for their efforts.
While I admit that the premise is sound and has potential, the execution (heh) is so hackneyed and droll that it ruins any and every ounce of possibility that may have existed within the idea. For starters, our characters are obnoxious to the point of parody. It only took minutes for me to lose every bit of interest or good will I might have had for these people and in some cases—I’m looking at you, Ryan—I actually rooted for their demise. Of course, this isn’t a terrible thing to wish for in a horror movie. Seeing characters get their comeuppance is, after all, part of the appeal. But Ryan is so mind-bogglingly annoying that he might as well have looked into his camera at the beginning of the movie and said “I’m basically already dead.”
This sort of telegraphing is a constant problem in The Gallows; no efforts were made at subtlety or grace. This is a movie that insists on telling you exactly what cards it’s holding, ruining any element of surprise that there could have been. This, itself, isn’t that surprising. In fact, unsurprising is sort of the unintentional theme of the movie. Predictable jump scares lurk around every corner. Twists are apparent long before their reveal. There is no shock and without shock there can be no horror. This is a lesson the filmmakers would do well to remember. Seeing a dead body in itself is not horrifying. No, the reveal is where the horror lies, and effective reveal, like an effective horror, must rely on surprise.
I’m tempted to go into more detail and reveal all of the “horrifying” “twists” in order to bolster my points, but doing so would be as useless as this movie. They’re so readily apparent that it’s honestly not worth the effort on my part. My hope would be that I could manage to convince at least one single person to prevent the loss of their precious brain power and avoid this movie but, in all reality, that’s probably pointless. If you’re in the target demographic for this movie then there’s a good chance nothing I say or do will convince you. This is a movie that must be experienced in order to be understood, so if that’s your desire then, by all means, have at it. Just remember that experiences can’t be undone. There is no going back once you live through something, so be careful what you choose to live through.
So see it if you must. Horror fans, after all, aren’t exactly known for the discretionary choices in movie watching. The mere label of horror is enough to put butts into seats, and this is the dynamic Blumhouse hopes for every time it shits out another of these by the numbers shlockfests that are its bread and butter. Still, there are a couple of things I want you to consider before you do. The first is that you’ll have no one to blame but yourself if in a few years all you’ve got in your beloved genre are cheap and ineffective god awful movies; they’d stop making them if you stopped watching them. The second is that considering the cost of going to the movies these days, with the price of tickets and concessions treats being so high, it might be worthwhile to pool your money with your companions to purchase a GoPro and make a movie of your own, instead. If you did that, there’s at least a decent chance you’d produce a better movie than The Gallows ever could be.
The Gallows is in theaters now.