Monday, 20 July 2015

Review: The Gallows

World of Blackout Film Review

The Gallows Poster

The Gallows (SPOILERS. I suppose.)
Cert: 15 / 81 mins / Dir. Travis Cluff & Chris Lofing / Trailer
WoB Rating: 3/7

What's that, you say? A found-footage horror movie about a group of teenagers in an empty high-school, a prank-gone-wrong and a vengeful supernatural entity which will kill them one by one? What could possibly go wrong? Well, The Gallows is a found-footage horror movie about a group of teenagers in an empty high-school, a prank-gone-wrong and a vengeful supernatural entity which will kill them one by one. And that's just the start of it. No entry into the genre would be complete without a) suspiciously high-quality footage from the camcorder in question, b) a conveniently out-of-power battery which gets switched without explanation (twice), and c) an environment so dark that no standard camera would pick up jack-shit anyway. In this respect, the movie delivers.

Given the minimal budget ($100k) and the relatively young cast, The Gallows implements its shocks fairly efficiently (albeit in a textbook 'quiet/quiet/LOUD' way), and it's to the film's credit that the tension is kept high and no-one actually dies until around the 50-minute mark. That said, the actual writing itself leaves much to be desired. The plot conceit, about a twenty-year-old 'accident' with a prop-gallows for a school play, and the school which inexplicably decides to honour the untimely death of one of its students by staging the same play with the same props as an anniversary tribute, is Teen Horror 101™, in that it makes no sense to anyone but the characters in the film. As a device to deliver a dark, claustrophobic survival horror, it just about works until the last ten minutes, which manage to make even less sense.

The other problem is this whole 'found footage' thing which film-makers can't seem to leave alone. Invariably this involves a scene in the first act where the principal camera-holder explains why they're holding a camera (check). Sadly, this also usually leads to a scene where the camera is moving, but all of the film's characters are on-screen. Despite its many faults, The Gallows deftly avoids this, then falls into the trap of beginning several scenes with no-one touching the camera; ie no-one pressing record/un-pause. And yeah, it shouldn't be a big deal, but since the first thing we get on-screen is a 'Police Property/Evidence' title-card, you'd be forgiven for thinking that might entail the footage being 'un-edited' in some way. That said, the batshit-crazy final ten minutes suggests that the footage isn't all taken from the same memory-card anyway, so why bother with the pretext at all?

For a first, low-budget feature, Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff have assembled a passable fright-fest, but it's really not enough to warrant a theatrical release. The technical expertise is present and correct on almost every level except the actual writing.

If you've just turned 15 and haven't seen a horror movie at the cinema before, this is the film for you. Everyone else, manage your expectations accordingly.

And apart from anything else, if the red standby lights are on in the school theatre then the power must be live. So once things start getting weird, why does nobody turn the fucking lights on?

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
If you've earned the money to pay for it, not really, no.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
Oh, just stream it once it hits Netflix, if you must.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
Couldn't really tell you, other than to say it is remarkably well acted given the quality of the script.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Okay, this one was a challenge, and I've had to go a level further than usual...
The Gallows stars Cassidy Gifford as… well, Cassidy*1, who appeared in the 2014 flick God's Not Dead alongside Dean Cain (yes, that Dean Cain), who lent his voice to 'The Black Cherry' episode of Robot Chicken, along with Seth 'Todo 360' Green from Star Wars The Clone Wars and Sarah Michelle Gellar, who'll be appearing in Season 2 of Star Wars Rebels.

Yeah, that's all I've got. Seriously. Finding that link took longer than writing the review. The film's cast have done little but TV work and film shorts with each other. And you should see the list of utter, utter shit that Dean Cain's appeared in. Seriously. He's a busy actor sure, but what price dignity, Dean? 'The Dog Who Saved Summer'? Christ…

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 The vast majority of the film's characters basically have the same name as their respective cast-members. I can't work out if this is an aid to cinematic naturalism (which kinda works, to be fair), or supreme laziness on the part of the writers (more likely).

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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