Dear Hollywood, what did us horror fans do to possibly deserve The Gallows? Perhaps it’s our own fault in making successes of the multitude of low-budget found footage movies that sweep the cinemas every year that we get such a derivative, turgid, self-satisfied and worst of all completely un-scary horror as this. Even so this seems like cruel and unusual punishment.
The plot, such as it is, takes place in a small town 20 years after a horrific accident that left a teenager dead during a school play. The current students decide to resurrect the play in a misguided attempt to honour the tragic incident. When three students (played by Reese Houser, Cassidy Spilker and Ryan Shoos) decide to break into the school before opening night and wreck the props, they soon discover that the past is better left behind.
It’s a thin plot that breeds not very much at all. From its two-dimensional characters, bad acting and utterly generic visual style, it doesn’t even come close to the sorts of base-level scares you’d want at minimum and certainly doesn’t provide anything that will have you talking about it afterwards beyond the anger that you’ve just spent good time and money on it. Usually horrors of this kind have one or two moments that have the power to make you feel mildly unsafe, if not make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, but The Gallows is jaw-droppingly free of any such scenes.
It comes to us from Blumhouse, the same studio that has found success in recent years with the likes of Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister and The Purge to name but a few, all films that at least initially did something interesting with the horror genre and tapped into a certain type of fear that’s kept audiences coming back for more. This has no such special quality about it, playing more as a badly made, production line effort churned out to grab some quick cash from the Friday night crowd who just turn up and pay for anything that a) happens to be on at the right time and b) promises loud noises in the dark.
The found footage aspect certainly doesn’t help either. It’s a style that has become so overused in the last few years that it induces groans upon the realisation that the film at hand is going to be employing it and it has to work damn hard from the offset to prove it’s not going to be just the same as the rest. But The Gallows is perfectly willing to just play in that sandbox, employing a bag of tricks that are so stale that it might as well come with an out-of-date expiration label.
Perhaps worst of all the film tries to thrust this legend on us about this killer named Charlie who uses a noose to terrorize and kill his victims. It’s not, admittedly, the worst idea for a new horror creation as you could easily boil down the likes of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers to the same simplified level. But the proof is in the bloodied pudding with this sort of thing and The Gallows undercooked mythology simply isn’t good enough and a frankly insulting cheap trick of an ending only amplifies just how ineffective and lacking in substance it is.
Is this what is supposed to pass for horror? We know it doesn’t. The recent one-two punch of unsettling horror greatness The Babadook and It Follows, to name but a mere couple, vehemently proves that. The Gallows is nothing more than a shoddily made, unoriginal mess of a horror that just hangs there, dead and lifeless like the threatened victims of Charlie’s not-so-scary noose. We deserve better than this.