Director: Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff
Cast: Cassidy Gifford, Ryan Shoos, Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown
Release Date: July 10th, 2015
The Gallows is a rare found footage film that works better than it should. Unlike other such movies, see there’s a reason here that explains why so much of the story is videotaped despite the fact that the the movie’s characters are running for their lives. The characters are recording everything— on their video cameras or on their phones— because they need the light that accompanies those devices to find out what’s lurking around the next corner.
Find it, web they do.
The feature opens smartly with a handheld camera recording a 1993 high school production of the play The Gallows. The camerawork is shoddy, this to be sure, but it’s honest— showing how so many of us can relate to parents or grandparents having trouble recording our own high school theatrical productions. During the midst of the play though, an onstage tragedy leaves the audience horrified.
Decades later, the school is—after some controversy— rehearsing a revival of the play, hoping against hope that such a tragic ending doesn’t repeat itself.
Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff co-wrote and co-directed the small-budget feature together and their focus on tension and suspense is not to be underestimated. It’s perhaps because of budgetary restrictions that the horror film feels like a throwback to 80s horror movies.
The Gallows offers neither the body count we’re used to or the graphic deaths we’ve become immune to. Instead, it focuses its lens on suspense and builds that throughout.
For much of its short running time, only four characters are onscreen as they are locked inside their high school late at night. The high school characters include the haughty actress Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown), the obnoxious wannabe cameraman Ryan Shoos (Ryan Shoos), the flirty Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) and the football player- turned actor Reese (Reese Mishler). After realizing how poor of an actor he is (and that the play’s upcoming premiere will only embarrass him), Reese has agreed to destroy the set of his new play alongside Ryan and Cassidy when Pfeifer arrives late at school wondering why Reese’ car is parked right outside. Little does she know that the trio have arrived to destroy the production she’s worked so hard on.
After she arrives though, the doors all lock— closing the characters in.
The quartet spend an evening together with their cameras on or their cell phones recording trying to escape from the seemingly haunted school as a ghost-type figure (possible Charlie) tries to kill them. There are moments when the found footage method does seem questionable (especially when the focus moves abruptly from the primary camera to another one) but for most of the film, the concept works as we see some monsters approaching before the characters do. The film’s premise is predictable but the high school setting only lends to the tension that Lofing and Cluff build so well. They relentlessly build up suspense waiting longer than one would expect for a good scare and letting the audiences revel in the fear that the main characters exhibit.
There isn’t much in terms of scary music here because at some of the darkest moments, the only sounds we hear are the characters breathing heavily as their worst nightmares come true. With little music, the audience doesn’t know where and when the next scare is coming from.
At a brisk and well-paced 81 minutes, the horror film nicely never overstays its welcome. Although The Gallows lacks the artfulness of this years Sundance hit It Follows, it makes up for it instead working as a well-manufactured throwback to scary movies with limited resources that— despite their budgetary shortcomings— were able to build suspense and tension.
The Gallows does that extremely well.
Review by: John Hanlon