As someone who grew up a bit of a theatre brat years (and years) ago, I’m always game for a genre film that immerses viewers into that community. The recent horror/comedy/musical mash-up, Stage Fright, did a pretty great job playing around in this environment but I must say, it’s nice to see a film like The Gallows come along and bring a little bit of fear back to the stage. The story of The Gallows may be similar to ones you’ve seen before, but the way that both Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing present their material feels uniquely horrifying. And while I may have been left wanting a few more details out of their killer’s backstory, overall I was pleasantly surprised by how intense and well-crafted The Gallows ended up being in the end.
We learn at the beginning of The Gallows that back in the early 1990’s, a group of Beatrice High School drama students were in the midst of performing a dramatic play by the same name when one of the students, Charlie, was killed after a hanging stunt takes a ghastly turn. The story then fast forwards 20 years where a new group of high schoolers are preparing to perform the very same play that claimed Charlie’s life as a way to pay tribute to the tragedy that preceded them. Of course, this ends up being a terrible idea as one group of friends (portrayed by Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, and Cassidy Gifford) soon finds out after they break into their school one night and encounter the pissed off entity who wants them to all hang for their sins.
To be completely honest, The Gallows ended up being quite a surprise for me as I was just expecting another teeny-bopper horror flick going into it. And sure, there are some teen-ish moments early on in the film that left me with a bit of “get off my lawn” feeling (I’m old, it happens) but once things take a sinister turn in the second act, Cluff and Lofing’s superstition-fueled slasher evolves into an experience that was far more unsettling and genuinely creepy than any other studio-released genre movie I’ve seen so far this summer.
In fact, The Gallows is the first film in a long while that actually made me jump a few times so I definitely tip my proverbial hat to both Cluff and Lofing for being able to craft some legitimate scares that actually are far more effective than the usual “Gotcha!” moments accompanied by a loud musical stinger that we see utilized so often these days. Some of the film’s gags are achieved via some really cool in-camera tricks that keeps things feeling like your eyes may or may not be playing tricks on you, which certainly added to the general sense of unease that looms over The Gallows from start to finish.
There isn’t a ton of gore in The Gallows either but the film does have a bit of a nasty streak to it, especially during the finale which takes a very twisted and rather unexpected turns the film’s mythology on its head. The final scene of the film is also fantastically messed up (I audibly laughed in the theater) but then The Gallows hits us with one of those “killer mugging for the camera” moments which almost derails the subtle creepiness of everything right before it.
Charlie’s also an effective cinematic killer but I wasn’t in love with his digitized “ghost effect” which looks a bit more like a TV flicker or how the ghosts are presented in the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney- he’s got a great menacing look to him already so that flickering treatment feels a bit unnecessary. There are also a few questions that are raised about what precisely happened to Charlie during that fateful performance that killed him that we get no real answers on and I was hoping they’d be addressed here. To be honest, it might have slowed down the story’s momentum to go into those details (The Gallows clocks in at a swift 82 minutes) but I still wanted the answers nonetheless.
While it may be easy to dismiss The Gallows as yet another ‘found footage’ movie (something I’m absolutely guilty of doing myself), the film is actually a cleverly executed low-fi horror tale that manages to do a few things a bit differently and also delivers some solid scares too. The actors in The Gallows are all likeable and engaging, the premise behind Charlie is intriguing and both Cluff and Lofing prove here that going the extra mile when concocting your scares can make a huge difference when you don’t have a huge budget at your disposal. It may not be flawless but The Gallows is certainly a ton of fun and I’d be game to see what’s next for Charlie if this one does well.
Movie Score: 3.5/5