August 4, 2015

The Gallows (2015)

"20 years after a horrific accident during a small town school play, students at the school resurrect the failed show in a misguided attempt to honor the anniversary of the tragedy - but soon discover that some things are better left alone."

Rather than immediately writing yet another scathing review of a lacklustre movie in a subgenre which I've grown to despise as soon as it was released, I thought it better to wait until all the gushing mouth-breathers got their overwhelming praise of "The Gallows" out of their systems before watching this latest Blumhouse production.

I'm glad that I waited a few weeks (and avoided reading any of the now seemingly mixed reviews) because I actually liked some of "The Gallows" in spite of myself. I was in the mood for a simple ghost story which didn't take up too much time to watch, and "The Gallows" pretty much delivered exactly what I expected.

Unfortunately, after a very strong start which utilises as many American high school tropes and clichés as possible, I'm grateful that the running time of only 81 minutes seemed to fly by even faster. There's only so much chaotic bickering, screaming, noisy jump scares, and running around madly with a shakycam that I can stand nowadays.

Pfeifer, Cassidy, and Reese get filmed by Ryan... a lot.

Given that the best parts of "The Gallows" involve stereotypes such as jocks and nerds and cheerleaders being as jocky and nerdy and cheerleadery as can be, the story moves along at a brisk pace with decent enough acting for what it is. The primary "cameraman" is a total asshole who defies logic with his constant filming, his best friend is a nicer and dumber jock, and their girlfriends are physically very attractive. So there's not a lot to dislike about the talent or characterisation except for the lack of originality.

Ambient sounds in the background create an unsettling atmosphere when the teenagers are up to the necks (often quite literally) in the spooky shenanigans, and the first 40 minutes of "The Gallows" are quite engrossing. Sadly, the atmosphere and quality of the storytelling doesn't last.

The loud jump scares and overuse of the gimmicky "being dragged through the air by something invisible" stunts which were made so popular by "Paranormal Activity" become irksome soon after the first one kicks in. Although fans of these "haunted house" style features won't be disappointed, they come across as a cheap way of avoiding any attempt at creating tension and genuine frights for the rest of us.

The pity of it is that the first traditional jump scare (when a TV pops on conveniently with the news story of Charlie's death) really does work. After that point, the rest of "The Gallows" turns into a de rigueur Blumhouse mess of obnoxious teenagers blaming each other and themselves, shrieking, panicking, making stupid decisions, and just being bloody annoying until they are bumped off.

With scenes edited in such a confusing manner that it's almost impossible to tell what is happening to which character and in what order, most of the exposition is given way too soon, and the denouement involves a very predictable reveal rather than a twist. Having said that, "The Gallows" may not be remembered for anything other than attempting to leech off the viral "Charlie Charlie" game for its marketing, but it's still surprisingly entertaining overall.

As much as I generally detest "found footage" movies, I guiltily have to admit that I mostly enjoyed this one. It certainly hasn't changed my very negative opinion about faux found footage or Blumhouse Productions, but I imagine that "The Gallows" will be thought of as "the best horror movie this year" by the big name sites and their unreliable "critics". Given the appalling state of the horror genre at the present time, however, I have no choice but to second their recommendation.

Apart from all the clichés, confusing scenes in the second-half which don't progress logically from each other, and of course, the ridiculous ending, "The Gallows" is quite good. It's worth a rental anyway.

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