Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Gallows (2015)

Found footage movies are all kinda the same nowadays. At least, that's how it feels. It takes something serious to make one stand out from the rest. Cloverfield had a giant monster, [•REC] had zombies, the V/H/S trilogy were anthology movies utilizing a multitude of different horror styles, but everything else comes off like the same tired haunted house movies churned out by filmmakers hoping to replicate the success of the Paranormal Activity franchise.

This brings us to the new flick The Gallows. Its trailers and TV commercials make it look like a found footage slasher flick, an idea that doesn't fill many horror fans I know with much hope. (Just go on a horror website and ask for opinions about the rumored found footage Friday the 13th sequel if you don't believe me.) But the "Tuesday the 17th" segment of the first V/H/S movie turned out well, so there's a shot, right? As it turns out, The Gallows isn't as much of a slasher movie as it is just more of the same supernatural horror we've gotten from every other found footage movie over the last couple of years. And if you haven't seen The Gallows yet, take my word for it: you aren't missing much.

Welcome to the small town of Bernice, Nebraska. Back in 1993, the high school drama club's performance of a play called "The Gallows" ended in tragedy when leading man Charlie Grimille (Jesse Cross) was killed when a prop noose malfunctioned. Now, twenty years later, saying Charlie's name has become bad luck among the drama club, similar to the superstitions surrounding Shakespeare's Macbeth. But that aside, they're now prepping a revival of "The Gallows" under the assumption that enough time had passed to prevent old wounds from reopening.

We're quickly introduced to the new production of "The Gallows" by Ryan (Ryan Shoos), a football player filming his buddy Reese (Reese Mishler) as he rehearses for his role as the play's male lead. Ryan has nothing but contempt for the drama club, relentlessly teasing them while razzing Reese for taking the play seriously. But it really hits the fan when Ryan realizes that Reese has something of a crush on his co-star, pretty nerd Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown).

Upset with the fact that Reese is attracted to one of these lowly theater geeks and unwilling to let him embarrass himself with a lousy performance, Ryan decides to wreck the play on the eve of its opening night. He pesters Reese until he agrees to participate, and with Ryan's girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) tagging along, they sneak into the auditorium and start dismantling the stage.

They're interrupted by the arrival of Pfeifer not long thereafter, but as the quartet try to leave, they discover that they've somehow been locked inside the school with no way out and no means of contacting the outside world for help. They're not alone, either, trapped inside with a malevolent supernatural force that does not want them to leave alive.

I really didn't have very high hopes when I sat down to watch The Gallows earlier this afternoon. The commercials didn't fill me with any sort of confidence, the reviews have been overwhelmingly terrible, and I only really decided to see it at all because I was bored and wanted to go to the movies. I actually kinda regret it now because The Gallows is spectacularly lousy. It's one of those horror movies that no matter how much it may try, there's no way that the audience could ever take it seriously. There is a severe lack of scares, atmosphere, suspense, likable characters, or anything else that would make it a decent horror movie. But to its credit, at least it's short.

Part of the reason why it's so bad is because the writer/director duo of Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff completely fail at everything. Lofing and Cluff don't even try to bring anything new to the table, choosing not to innovate but to rely on the same tired clichés from every other found footage haunted house movie. There's nothing you haven't seen a hundred times over in a hundred other movies.

Lofing and Cluff don't even make these clichés interesting to watch, and the movie continues to fail when you start looking at the slasher movie elements that they've ever so slightly adopted. A slasher movie doesn't need gore or ultra-creative kills to work; Bob Clark's Black Christmas and John Carpenter's Halloween proved that. But a lame-duck of a movie like The Gallows would have been helped by bloody, over-the-top deaths and it doesn't even try to go there. The movie is just one dull moment after another. There are one or two decent jump scares, I'll give them that. But there's no atmosphere or suspense, or even a reason to care. I just sat in the theater with my head in my hands, wondering when anything interesting would happen.

It doesn't help anything that Lofing and Cluff's script is so unbelievably abysmal, either. For example, the "why do they keep filming this?" argument plays into this very heavily. The characters never once put down their cameras for any reason, which, had their plan to wreck the play gone off without a hitch and they'd never encountered the killer ghost, would have given the police plenty of evidence with which to prosecute them for breaking and entering and vandalism. I get using the lights and night-vision option on the cameras to see, but why keep filming?

Which further begs the question, did the movie even need to be in found footage at all? There's a lot of screen time devoted to just the cast's feet as they're running from Charlie, time that Lofing and Cluff could have devoted to using the admittedly really frightening looking sets to build some serious atmosphere. But the found footage thing really hurts the movie something fierce, because it really constricts what Lofing and Cluff could have been able to do with it. Some movies can work using the format, but The Gallows is not one of them.

Those are just a couple of simple nitpicks (and I've got a hell of a lot of things to nitpick about The Gallows), but the really big problem I had with it is the twist ending comes completely out of nowhere with practically no foreshadowing whatsoever to set it up. And then you start thinking about the logistics of it, and you start noticing things that make absolutely no sense at all given the facts that the movie presents us. Add the epilogue into it, and it's just another ridiculous thing that makes the movie really freaking infuriating to watch.

And if you're making a horror movie where the characters are getting picked off one by one, the audience may root for the villain, but the characters still need to retain some sense of likability in order to keep the audience invested in them. But Lofing and Cluff have written a movie where not only is the villain completely uninteresting, but practically the entire primary cast is unlikable. You can't even root for Charlie to kill them because you just want them to go away and never come back. They're legitimately some of the most unlikable characters I've seen. And if you're like me, you'll even find yourself growing to loathe them. They're so annoying and stupid and awful that I'd rather do pretty much anything else than watch these idiots stammer around the screen for 80 minutes.

The actors just make this worse, because they're all pretty awful. I spent the movie wishing I could replicate the scene from Wayne's World 2 where Wayne has the gas station attendant replaced with Charlton Heston because they're all just that bad. Cassidy Gifford (whose only real claim to fame is being Kathy Lee Gifford's daughter) is forgettable thanks to her character being so flatly written that there are no defining features to her whatsoever, while Reese Mishler and Pfeifer Brown don't do any better than mediocre. (To her credit, though, Brown is pretty cute in her role up until the ending, so I'll give her that.) But I cannot write anything about The Gallows without mentioning just how terrible Ryan Shoos is. Shoos is an awful actor, something exacerbated the fact that the character is absolutely unbearable to put up with. You'll spend the entirety of the movie wanting him to be slaughtered by Charlie here, as Shoos is playing the most insufferable douchebag ever. Had the entire last hour of the movie just been all the drama nerds beating the everloving hell out of him, I'd have been satisfied with that. The movie would have gotten a rave review if his fate had been ten times worse.

The Gallows is one of those movies that left me unable to wrap my head around just how stupid it is. I'm glad I saw the movie alone in an empty theater, since being able to talk back to the screen and berate the movie as it was playing was actually pretty cathartic. I can say the same for writing this review, because The Gallows is one of the most mind-bogglingly frustrating movies I've seen in quite a while and being able to get my thoughts out in writing really helps me feel better about it. It's the kind of movie that should have gone straight to video and been ignored as I passed by it while checking my Netflix recommendations. But it was released by Warner Bros. in 2,000 theaters, which puts it on a level with movies like Devil's Due and The Last Exorcism Part II that really makes me weep for the state of the horror genre. If you gain any knowledge from this review, I hope it is this: The Gallows sucks. It is a horrible movie that, if you haven't seen it yet, should be avoided at all costs. And the real tragedy? It's too late for me to ask the theater for a refund.

Final Rating: *

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