Review 66: The Gallows (0/5)

The Gallows Poster.jpg

The Gallows

Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing

Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford

Released on June 30, 2015

Running time: 1h 21m

Rated R (Suggested rating: PG-13 for brief violence and some strong language (Note how I didn’t mention scariness.))

Genre: Horror

In 1993, the play known as “The Gallows” was performed. No, it’s not a real play. I don’t know what the dang play was about. It had something to do with forbidden love ending in tragedy, and something to do with inter-social-class conflict. The movie does nothing to help that situation. In fact, I could easily tell that the two and a half scenes shown from the play were specifically written for the movie. The only vibe I get from it is a sense of overwhelming cheesiness and sappiness. Anyway, something went wrong. Charlie Grimille –

(Don’t say his name!)

It was a freaking movie. Drop the silly gimmick.

As I was saying, Charlie Grimille –

(Don’t say his name!)

Shut up!

As I was saying, Charlie Grimille was the high school student playing the lead role of August, a peasant who falls in love with a noblewoman. On opening night, the play was performed, using a legitimate gallows, with noose, trapdoor, and all. What school would be so stupid to use such a setpiece? It clearly stands out from the rest of the very cheaply designed school sets. But anyway, in the scene in which August is to be hanged, the trapdoor collapsed early, causing Charlie to be hanged. All death is tragic, and this is no exception.

Now, twenty-two years later, a young student named Pfeifer (Brown) has resurrected the play, planning to show it again…with the exact same sets. I presume it’s for a senior project. Dang it. I…don’t want to remember my senior project. Pfeifer is playing the lead female role of…Anonymous Nobility Chick.

Why is there no media coverage of the restaging of this doomed play?

And this restaging is the first of about a thousand stupid decisions made by our characters…and me.

And a football player named Reese (Mishler) is playing August. He can’t act worth crap, and, the day before opening night, he doesn’t even know his lines. I still don’t even know how he got the part. Why hasn’t he been fired yet? Is there no understudy?

This caused me to hark back to April of my junior year of high school. Carson High was putting on a performance of “Urinetown: The Musical”. Even though I would later learn that the musical was rather meh, I signed up to be a part of the stage crew. Our only job, for the most part, was moving the right set pieces around at the right time. It was an easy job, and whenever I wasn’t busy, I could stand off to the side of the stage and watch the performance. And our sets took time and effort to make. We even rented some scaffolding to use. We built wooden staircases and the actual backdrops ourselves. In fact, the only time I was in high school that I can remember renting setpieces was in our production of Little Shop of Horrors that we put on the previous year. I’d been in the pit orchestra that year. We’d had to rent our Audrey II props and actual setpiece. The pit orchestra director and the drama teacher had to make the four hour drive to San Francisco just to get them. Feed me, Seymour! But back to Urinetown: The Musical. While the musical was lacking, the actors were quite good. Teching was a lot of fun, and I not only made new friends, but I strengthened existing friendships. Thanks for a wonderful time, Robin, Shelby, Katie, Hannah, and Hannah. Yes, two Hannahs. Frankly, I wish I could have taken drama. I would have loved to have done so. Unfortunately, any openings in my class schedule were taken up by band and choir.

Where was I? Oh, yes, Reese not knowing his lines. Yes. Throughout the three or more days we spent running through the musical and ironing out errors, there was, as far as I could tell, only one incident in which our lead guy (sorry, I have to point this out) forgot a single line. This was the only time in which the flow of the play was interrupted.

If Reese sucks this much the day before opening night, then he desperately needs to be replaced. Is there no understudy?

It turns out that at this high school, drama classes is the place where only nurds, unattractive girls, and people who can’t get laid go. People in drama classes are scorned, made the butts of jokes, and generally looked down upon. Even Pfeifer isn’t safe from this. Heck, even Reese isn’t safe. Now that he somehow scored the lead role in an actual play, he is teased by his fellow football team members.

For how much disdain they felt toward drama students, I wanted to slap every one of those students that teased them. “What the eff is wrong with drama classes?” I literally yelled that at my computer screen.

And even the movie doesn’t like them. Price, the stage manager, actually patty-cakes with another stage worker, and the movie thinks that the girls that are working as part of this play are its pitiful definition of unattractive.

And this is being documented by Ryan (Shoos), the “cool” guy, and the guy behind the camera. And he is not only the worst offender in the “infuriatingly annoying asshole” department, but after witnessing the spectacle that is Ryan, you will want to reach through the screen and tear his luggage and both carry-ons off with your bare hands, and then shove salt into the hole they were pulled out of. The stage manager, Price, is the drama guy who is most often targeted by Ryan. After Ryan beans Price in the head with a football from ten yards, Price pulls a prank on Ryan, humiliating him in front of everyone working on the play. I laughed like a Bond villain. Ryan, in response, chases Price, pins him against a door, and threatens him. The drama teacher steps in and calls Ryan out. Ryan threatens Price again as Price and the drama teacher walk back onto the stage.

Yes. Ryan is the stereotypical Asshole Teenager. He can heckle Price as much as he wants, with Price taking it like a man. But when that heckling is turned on him in the form of a prank, Ryan can’t take it. He’s a pussy, pure and simple.

In fact, had I gone to this school, I think I would have been friends with a guy like Price. I’m a nerd too.

By the way, that door that Ryan slammed Price against? It’s a door leading to the outside, and it is never locked, as the lock is broken. How has leaving that door broken not backfired in the school’s face yet?

Ryan gives us a shot of the picture of the original 1993 cast, and reveals to the audience that the name of the student hanged was Charlie Grimille (grim-ǝll). Yes. A totally sinister name indeed. It has the word “grim” in it.

Ryan then discovers from Reese that the reason that Reese did the play in the first place was because Reese likes Pfeifer. Ryan, along with his girlfriend Cassidy (Gifford), talk to Reese. They tell the truth about his acting, that he sucks. But they take it farther, saying that the ruination of the play will be entirely because of Reese. But then they come up with the ingenious idea to break into the school that night and destroy the set, so that when Pfeifer breaks down, she can have a shoulder to cry on. How shallow is Ryan, exactly? Because I want to castrate him even more now. And, believe it or not, Reese acquiesces.

After an incredibly awkward sequence in which Ryan is caught in his underwear in his room by his mom, Ryan picks up Reese and Cassidy, and they both head to the school. The door is unlocked, so they head in.

By the way, how long does Cassidy spend tanning every day? Because her tanned skin and her blonde hair never stop clashing. Either that or she’s trying to pull a Rachel Dolezal by taking her first step to faking being black because…I don’t know, she wants to join the Black Lives Matter cult? All Lives Matter, dammit. I don’t care what Mark Zuckerberg or DeRay McKesson might say.

Ryan breaks into Price’s locker and steals his black clothes. Because he’s the stage manager. You have to dress in black during performance. Ryan films himself giving Price two choices of what to wear. A black sweater with “boob holes” cut in the back as well as the front (odd), and a ridiculously small shirt.

Ryan, if I force you to eat your own poop and then eat yourself to death, can you guarantee that you will not only die but that you will die in horrible pain and agony?

Ryan, Cassidy, and Reese go onto the stage and…only do minor damage to the set, like knocking over fake plants and a tree setpiece and removing the noose from the gallows. Sure, they take some boards off of the gallows and take the noose down, but they don’t actually do any damage that couldn’t be easily fixed. Gee. I wonder if some of the spoooooooky activity is going to involve the set being put back together offscreen. Also, Ryan then calls out Charlie’s name for some reason. Ryan is an idiot; he has now sealed his own fate, and he deserves every bit of misery that he will endure this night. Serves him right.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the “Charlie Charlie challenge” wasn’t that popular until just a little while after The Gallows  came out. Are American high school and college students really that dumb?

The three start to leave, but just as they are about to, they bump into Pfeifer. Okay, why is she here? What reason does she have to be here? This question is never answered throughout the movie, and it remains a humongous plothole that the mountain men from Deliverance would love to screw. Actually, Pfeifer says that she saw Reese’s car, but she had no reason to be in that part of town. When Pfeifer notices that Reese is there, Reese stalls her by telling her that he came there for an emergency practice. Pfeifer buys it for some reason, and the four head to the door to leave.

But it’s locked somehow. Also, there’s no phone service. The power is out. The other doors are locked. The windows are barred. There’s no way out. Fill in the rest of the list of tropes of found-footage horror for this Grave Encounters wannabe. (GE is a pretty good and actually scary movie, check it out.)

By now, I had realized that thirty minutes had gone by, and that the movie was only eighty-one minutes long, including the credits. I then did a double-take. I was thirty minutes in. That meant that the movie had less than fifty minutes to tell a good story, make our characters likable, and scare the bejabbers out of me. Good luck with that. It’s not exactly possible.

After wandering around for a while, Cassidy gets annoyed and, out of spite, confesses to Pfeifer that the reason that they were here was because they wanted to destroy the set. Pfeifer gets pissed at Reese, who in turn gets pissed at Ryan, both rightly so. The four return to the stage to find the set rebuilt and intact. Whaddya know? I told you so.

After wandering around again, they go to the main office where, of course, the phones are dead. And then they find a seeeeecret dooooooor. It leads to a looooong coooorridoooooor, which leads to a room with a TV in it blasting static before it cuts to a news report about the death of Charlie, saying that Charlie was originally supposed to play the hangman, that he was the understudy of the guy who originally played August. The footage then goes on to show an interview with Charlie’s girlfriend, who happens to be Pfeifer’s mom, and a repeat of the prologue clip. Why was the prologue even there to begin with when it was just showed anyway?

By the way, yes, that was just found-footage-within-found-footage. When I say it like that, and combine it with its placement in The Gallows, it sounds really silly and stupid. Because it is.

And now I must address the poor, poor scares. They are all jumpers, with the ones actually having buildup being too few and far between to be memorable. Yes, I did see the previews of The Gallows being hyped to hell and back as the next Paranormal Activity; the previews showed people reacting to it in the same way as Paranormal Activity’s previews…getting the crap scared out of them and jumping out of their seats. Now that I have seen both Paranormal Activity and The Gallows, I can safely say that the audiences who actually found those freaking movies scary are complete, utter idiots. I could barely stay awake during Paranormal Activity, much less actually be scared by it. The Gallows didn’t have that same lethargic effect because it was too short, but yes, I was not scared at all by it. Also, in The Gallows, even though it’s found-footage, with every jumpscare, there is still the complimentary bang, whack, or thump.

Jumpscares can be effective if they happen in the right setting, with the right sound, having a fantastic atmosphere, creating buildup, and actually having a reason for being there. But just tossing a bunch of jumpers at us willy-nilly isn’t scary! If anything, it pisses me off!

You know what movie had fantastic jumpscares combined with dripping suspense and buildup, well-done sound design, a claustrophobic setting, an atmosphere filled with doom, despair, and disturbing-ness, and an actually creepy backstory? It only came out this year, and it is known as Last Shift. It’s a little-known, independent movie that can be hard to find, but in my eyes, it does horror right. It’s actually really scary.

But back to The Gallows.

Reese, seeing the guy who was originally supposed to play Charlie in the shot of the 1993 cast picture, is disturbed. He runs off, causing the other three to chase after him. He finds the picture of the 1993 cast from earlier, takes it out of its display, and checks the names on the back. Sure enough, the guy who was originally supposed to play August was Reese’s dad. Uh…what a twist? I can imagine M. Night Shyamalan, one of the masters of the modern plot twist (The Village included), facepalming. How exactly is this twist supposed to affect us? So Reese’s dad should have died rather than Charlie? That’s kind of mean-spirited. Cassidy then gets briefly yanked into the air by something, and when she is caught by the other three, it is revealed that she now has rope burns on her neck. Ooooookay. What is that supposed to mean? Answer: It’s not supposed to mean anything; it’s just buildup to another scare. And then Ryan gets the idea into his head that somehow Reese is causing all of this stuff to happen. I don’t know why. Ryan has no reason to suspect Reese.

And then the four see a vent on the wall of the stage about twelve feet up, with a ladder about that high standing near it. Ryan starts climbing the ladder, saying Charlie’s name in the process. Pfeifer and Reese scold him for saying Charlie’s name, but he spitefully yells Charlie’s name three times, and about five seconds later, he suddenly rockets off the ladder and onto the floor faster than you can say “jumpscare”. He breaks his leg on impact. Well, what did he think was going to happen? He waved a red flag in front of a bull like the wannabe matador he is! Twelve feet off the ground while climbing a ladder, no less! Reese and Pfeifer leave the stage for some reason, and when Cassidy follows them, the door slams shut behind them, leaving Ryan alone. As the other three bang on the door, trying to get in, Ryan lets out a series of screams, before a loud bang cuts them off. The door opens, and when the three enter the stage area, Ryan is gone. His broken phone lies on the stage.

And then we see the exact same sequence involving Ryan, but from Ryan’s perspective. At first, Ryan freaks out at seeing the door shut by itself. Then, just after he calms down, he sees the figure of a hangman in a leather mask, white shirt, and brown knickers, wielding a noose. Of course the hangman is supposed to be Charlie. Ryan freaks out again, but Charlie disappears. Ryan calms down again, and, again, faster than you can say “jumpscare”, Ryan is launched off the floor, a noose around his neck, as he rockets upwards into the blackness.

Nitpick. If you are being hanged, and being lifted off the ground with such force and at such a speed, you would not be able to struggle. Your neck would have already broken, and you would be dead.

But I am so dang happy that Ryan is dead.

But by the time this has happened, we are fifty minutes into the movie, and we have only thirty minutes left. What in heaven’s name is the movie planning to do in just thirty minutes, with at least five minutes of credits? You should be building up to the climax by now. But the movie is not. In fact, there is no buildup to its climax. Well, it just barely starts to build up, but then the climax comes out of nowhere.

But now that our killer has been seen for the first time, I must address him. I must address the vengeful ghost of Charlie Grimille. Throughout the marketing campaign for The Gallows, during which the movie was hyping itself, Charlie was also hyped to hell and back. Charlie was marketed as the next big slasher villain, set to rival such killers as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, who both were specifically mentioned. “Freddy had his glove (or was it claws?). Jason had his machete. Charlie…has his noose.” But here are the problems. 1) Charlie is actually pretty small and skinny, and not very imposing. In fact, he looks like he doesn’t even break six feet or two hundred pounds. Freddy Krueger was skinny, but not too skinny, and he was definitely imposing. Jason Voorhees was tall and buff, easily towering over everyone else. 2) When using a noose, you can’t exactly draw blood. Freddy had his claw glove, and Jason had a machete and all sorts of other stabbing or chopping implements. 3) There’s only four teenagers trapped in this school. As a slasher film rule, at least one teen must survive, meaning that the maximum body count can be only three. That’s pretty scanty. Even though its method was stupid, at least the ridiculously awful Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone! managed to make its body count quite high, even though it, like The Gallows, had only four main characters. 4) What reason does Charlie even have to kill teens? Freddy and Jason at least had motives. Freddy was a child molester and murderer who wanted revenge for being burned alive. Jason saw his mother decapitated in front of him. Where’s Charlie’s motive? In fact, one of the reasons Pfeifer is reviving this play is to do it in memory of Charlie. Why the backlash? 5) There is not even a single slasher element or trope in The Gallows. Pitiful.

Cassidy somehow gets separated from Reese and Pfeifer. Her rope burns on her neck have become infected and inflamed and – hey! Don’t touch that makeup that the makeup team spent an entire thirty seconds putting on! You’ll pay for that; we just sent Charlie to kill y – well, that was fast. Nice job, Charlie.

By the way, why was that last scene shot using a red gel? Oh, I know. Because “boo”.

Reese and Pfeifer, after a few forgettable events that do nothing to add to the story, somehow end up on the stage, and for some reason decide to climb the ladder to go to the top. Charlie chases them and grabs Reese, but Reese somehow escapes Charlie’s clutches (how?) and escapes with Pfeifer to the top, where, after several minutes of us looking at nothing, they suddenly discover the corpses of Ryan and Cassidy, still hanging from nooses. Yes. Loud noises and screaming. That will totally scare the audience. They decide to climb back down to the stage, and when they do, they see that the door that was locked before is now open. Why? How? They take the opportunity to get out, but when Reese finally gets outside, he discovers that Pfeifer is not with him. He runs back inside to find Pfeifer on the stage, making choking sounds. Reese gets down on his knees to tend to her, and just as she stops choking, the spotlight turns on, fixing on them. For some reason, Pfeifer and Reese get the vibe that they need to reenact the scene in which August says his final goodbyes to Anonymous Nobility Chick. They do so in a way that could have been a fantastic payoff, but considering how ridiculous the rest of the movie has been, and the fact that it’s not long enough to create the proper buildup, it fails. They say their lines in this movie’s best display of “acting” and kiss.

LAL (Star Trek: The Next Generation): He’s biting that female!

And then another spotlight turns on, pointing at the gallows. Reese, somehow knowing that he has to do this, walks onto the gallows, stands on the trapdoor, and puts the noose around his neck. As Pfeifer, sobbing now, stays in character, yelling to August to not leave her, and as Reese, breaking character, tries to tell Pfeifer to stop, Charlie interrupts the two by pulling the lever, sending Reese on, well…

NORRINGTON (Pirates of the Caribbean: TCBP) : A short drop and a sudden stop.

(YOUNG ELIZABETH notices GIBBS behind NORRINGTON. GIBBS makes motions that look like he’s being hung. ELIZABETH is shocked.)

Reese hangs like the mannequin that was probably used in his place. It was this that made me ask, How was this hanging supposed to be faked to begin with? Charlie takes Pfeifer’s hand, and they bow. Pfeifer’s mother, who is sitting in the audience alone, gives a standing ovation. It would have been cooler if the house was packed.

Cut to a police body cam as he and a few officers investigate Pfeifer’s house. One officer goes up to Pfeifer’s room to discover that Pfeifer was dangerously obsessed with “The Gallows”, as the room is covered in stuff related to it. The officer turns, seeing Pfeifer having her mother comb her hair. The officer calls out to another officer, only to see that officer being dragged by a noose across the hall and up the wall. And then the bedroom door slams shut, trapping the first officer inside. A TV in the room turns on, showing the prologue clip again. The officer says

OFFICER: Charlie Grimille?

PFEIFER: You shouldn’t say that name.

Charlie suddenly appears in front of the officer and attacks him before the screen cuts to black and the film ends.

And we never get an idea of how this incident affected the general public.

Over the past few years, horror has shown that it can still be fresh. It Follows updated the idea of sex=death and the unstoppable stalker. Spring and Crimson Peak showed that horror and romance can be juxtaposed well, with Crimson Peak doing so with fantastic production design and special effects and Spring with its minimalist feel and emotional story. Sinister brought the boogeyman back and made him scarier than ever. Oculus messed with our heads more than most horror films to date. The Babadook showed that a horror story can be metaphorical. Evil Dead showed that horrifically over-the-top violence can be used to a film’s advantage. The Exorcism of Molly Hartley showed that a sequel can improve over its predecessor. Carrie showed that remakes can be good and actually improve over their source material. The Conjuring and the Insidious trilogy gave us nostalgic but still scary throwbacks to the good old clichés. Heck, M. Night Shyamalan showed that horror, comedy, and found footage can be juxtaposed in a surprisingly large step toward his redemption with The Visit.

While the found-footage genre has become quite tired lately, it has given us some quality films. Cannibal Holocaust and The Last Broadcast introduced the moviegoing public to the genre. The Blair Witch Project made it mainstream, even though I didn’t like it. And since then, we have received quality films like REC, Cloverfield, Grave Encounters, Trollhunter, Chronicle, The Last Exorcism, Afflicted, The Taking of Deborah Logan, Lake Mungo, The Den, The Borderlands, Creep, Man Bites Dog, The Tunnel, and though people didn’t like these next three, I still put them up here: Apollo 18, As Above, So Below, and Exists. Note how I didn’t put Paranormal Activity  up there.

So why couldn’t The Gallows work?

The plot is forced, never developed, completely forgettable, unnecessarily rushed, quickly becomes unglued, and is a total mess. Sure, its story was original, but there is a difference between original and contrived. It forgets that it is supposed to be more about the journey than the destination. It’s quite obvious that there was something more than meets the eye behind the restaged play’s doomed performance, yet nobody bothered to bat an eye, let alone complain about it.

Its characters are paper-thin, dim-witted, and unlikable and then some.

Its dialogue was incredibly shaky, and pulls an Unfriended by it being written for today’s teens, but not necessarily by today’s teens. For example, the characters’ seeming inability to swear. I’m serious. There is not a single F-bomb in this, and only a single s-word.

The movie as a whole was effortless and uninventive, lacking any sense of brainpower or common sense.

Even its pacing was off. Some scenes are too dang short, while others stretch on for far too long. This becomes really noticeable when the movie itself is phenomenally short.

Even its execution of found-footage tropes was flawed. There’s just one too many endless dark corridors and hidden dark rooms. Speaking of dark, there is a serious difference between shooting in the dark and shooting in pitch blackness. Sure, the dark can be used as an effective tool that evil creatures can lurk in, waiting to spring out at you. But when it’s so dark that you can’t see anything, it gets ridiculous. Also, nowadays, everyone knows that to operate a camcorder or a cell phone camera, you need to have steady hands. Why do we still have shaky cam in this genre? It’s not quite on the same level as the vomitorium Blair Witch Project, but it will cause some audience members to get nauseous. Plus, why are they even still filming to begin with?

It is an exhausted jumpscare fest, a no-risk investment (the budget was only $100000), a cash grab (it made $38.2 million hand over fist), and flaying of its genre that doesn’t even deserve its R rating. I’m serious. There is little to no violence at all, there is no nudity or sex, and there are no F-bombs. Why was this movie rated R to begin with?

It was hyped more than most other movies that summer, and it was not even close to worth it. It was a failed wannabe, and it seemed purposefully made to catch the eyes of those who weren’t old enough to see Paranormal Activity eight years prior.

And finally, it is an excuse. Its found-footage gimmick gave the screenwriters the idea that they don’t need to come up with a coherent, interesting story, or likable characters, or actual production design, or actual decent camcorder-work.

It’s a tired genre that needs to be laid to rest, unless you have a really damn good idea. If you don’t, don’t just make the movie anyway. The genre is done.

And The Gallows should serve as an example of how not to do it.

Final verdict: 0 out of 5 stars.

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