With Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Travis Cluff. Written and directed by Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing. Rated R for some disturbing violent content and terror. 81 minutes.
THE GALLOWS is one of the worst horror movies likely to be released this year. Even allowing its low budget and no-name cast, it is badly thought out from its absurd premise to its equally absurd payoff. Even people with low expectations for movies like this will not have them met.
However, before proceeding to trashing this excruciating exercise that makes 81 minutes seem like forever, let’s praise the one good idea they had and what presumably got the film made: almost the entire movie consists of four people locked in a high school late at night. Even this idea doesn’t quite work because this is a high school that seems to have been designed by the writers who created the ship for “Galaxy Quest.” (If you don’t remember the joke, it’s a complaint by one of the actors that there are things on the ship that have no practical purpose except to threaten the lives of the crew.)
So here’s the premise: In 1993, a small-town high school puts on a play called “The Gallows.” It’s a period piece about a commoner romancing a noblewoman and ends with him being hanged. Something goes horribly wrong and the kid playing the commoner dies.
Two things are immediately apparent. This is yet another “found footage” film with all the action not only filmed with shaky handheld cameras but with variable lighting for “atmosphere.” Second, the story jumps ahead to 2013 where, amazingly the school is putting on the play again. The female lead is played by Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown), who has been trying to recreate the original production right down to the picture on the cover of the program. What’s more, a photo of the original cast–including the dead boy–remains prominently on display.
Does this sound like anything even approaching reality? When we hear that “Charlie”–the dead boy–still haunts the school, we know we’re in trouble. Then Reese (Reese Mishler), the male lead in the new production who has quit the football team to do it, allows himself to be persuaded by his idiot friend Ryan (Ryan Shoos) and ditzy cheerleader Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) to break into the school and wreck the set. Why? So the play will be cancelled.
Other than the arrival of Pfeifer, the only surprise here is that no one can figure a way to get out of the school and that the stage seems to be built around several miles of corridor which have no purpose except to look scary. By the time the hapless teens start disappearing and some “secrets” are revealed, you’ll likely be less impressed with what they did on a low budget and more annoyed with what they’re trying to put over as a “horror” movie.
It’s possible to do something more or less creative on a shoestring and Blumhouse Productions, one of the companies behind this, has done it before with “Sinister” and “The Purge.” Some would add “Insidious” and “Paranormal Activity,” which shows just how low the bar can be set. “The Gallows” doesn’t even reach that. It just hangs there, dead… and deadly dull.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.