Apparently, there are some malevolent, supernatural entities out there with an inkling for the stage – all they really want to do is just put on a good show. And nothing’s gonna stop them, come hell or high water. The Gallows is a straight-faced, found-footage horror film with an amusing concept (forcing student thespians to literally bleed for their craft) and a good sting at the climax. But is the lengthy set-up worth the payoff?
20 years after a tragic death during a performance of a high school play, a group of students decide to put on the very same show. However, Jock-turned-thespian Reese (Reese Mishler) isn’t a natural on stage and fears that he will embarrass himself. Even worse, he’ll stand no chance at romance with his co-star Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). He teams with his camera-obsessed best friend/world-class jerk Ryan (Ryan Shoos) and cheerleader Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) to sneak in after hours, wreck the stage and delay the premiere. Of course, they are soon trapped inside with a nasty entity.
There’s more going on than meets the eye, but the movie meters out information slowly and in a painfully labored manner. The first third of the movie is told through the camera lens of Ryan. It’s an unfortunate choice, because this character is particularly hard to take. Grating doesn’t begin to cover it as he attends class, wanders the halls and irritates various students (few of these exchanges are relevant to the story itself).
While Reese ultimately is the main character and is more relatable, we end up spending far too much time with Ryan, a role that doesn’t come off as funny as intended and garners zero sympathy. Sure, they’re supposed to be dumb kids, but we have to have a reason to like them and/or care about their plight.
For the first hour, objects move around mysteriously, locker doors slam loudly and unexplained shadows appear while the kids attempt to make sense of it all. There’s a lot of awkward, eye-rolling exposition featuring characters explicitly stating important plot points off-camera – it’s almost as if this stilted dialogue was added after the fact. These exchanges are unnecessary and the technique feels awfully forced and inauthentic.
Despite all this, a funny thing happens towards the final act. As the information is revealed and events lead to a climax, the film gains some momentum. There are few good scenes involving a couple of suspenseful moments that result in a solid chill or two (in particular when a couple of the kids get lost backstage and in the rafters). The final escape attempt and auditorium-bound climax is clever and nicely ties together the themes of the film.
Yet even the impressive wrap-up is weakened by a tacked on coda that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, except to unambiguously tell you what was already made apparent at the finale. It’s very awkward, not only because it’s so redundant, but because it feels as if everyone involved in the project assumes that you’re too dense to understand what you just saw.
In the end, there are one or two decent scares wedged in between a lot of very dopey material. The ending is amusing, but ultimately it’s too long of a wait with too many unlikable characters to justify the journey. Only the most patient of viewers will find the entirety of The Gallows worth hanging around for.