This review is by guest writer Mo Zahedi. Mo co-hosts the Don’t Split Up! horror podcast. Listen to their review of The Gallows here.
The Blair Witch Project left behind more than just an eerie tape covering the last few days of three adventurous film students. It left behind an entire subgenre of horror films that have become increasingly popular over the years. Movies ranging from scary to funny, from bad to worse, have haunted us since we first stepped foot into those Maryland woods 16 years ago. The Gallows, a recent release, is one of the many found footage films to follow in the endless wake of The Blair Witch Project and it manages to hold up to the high standards of its predecessor.
Solid acting, intense suspense, and a twist ending help deliver way more than expected from this summer horror flick.
The film starts off with the normal horror clichés we’ve come to love and hate. Something tragic happened a long time ago, in this case the accidental hanging of a student during a school play. Fast forward to the present where your stereotypical jocks are picking on the theatre nerds, a cliché that is hopefully fast approaching its end. Has no one in the film industry realized that the days of physical bullying have ended? It’s a wonder we even have jocks anymore considering most people can’t even order a coffee without looking up from their phone, but I digress. Our main characters are introduced relatively quick as we watch the film through the handy work of Ryan Shoos who, although uninterested in theatre, immensely enjoys filming his every move. They, in perfect horror movie poor taste, are all involved in the school’s attempt to honor the 20th anniversary of the last debacle by setting the stage one more time.
Ryan is accompanied by his attractive, won’t be left behind, girlfriend Cassidy Spilker and what appears to be his best friend Reese Houser. The opening twenty minutes consists mostly of Ryan making sure everyone knows how much he hates being a part of the play while simultaneously shaming Reese, who plays the lead, for his poor acting. It isn’t until Ryan finds out about Reese’s crush on the female lead that the movie finally begins to move forward. In an effort to “save” Reese, Ryan convinces him they need to break in at night and destroy the set before he embarrasses himself in front of the whole school and his crush.
With little to no convincing needed Reese jumps on board the vandalism train and they head to the school that night. All signs point to haunted as they step foot in the school, but in classic teen horror fashion they are oblivious and unconcerned. Even though the lights aren’t working and locker doors open and close by themselves our gang continues on with the mission at hand. It isn’t until a loud bang is heard backstage by all three that they decide it’s time to scram. In their haste to exit they run right into Pfeifer, Reese’s crush, the female lead, and the sole reason the play is being resurrected to begin with. A few hasty lies later though and all four of them are moving to the exit. Big shocker here… the once broken door that allowed them access is now locked tight, along with every other exit in the building!
Now, after our typical, painful intro things finally start getting scary and by scary I mean friggin scary man!
The Gallows excels at prolonging the suspense and keeping you on the edge of your seat. A feat that I think should not go unrecognized considering they don’t have the help of eerie music to help set the mood or put you on edge. They rely on the shaky filming of an uninterested drama student (because this is real found footage remember, it even says so at the beginning of the film) and boy does he come through! They use the poorly lit school and the dark hallways to mute the camera light never letting you see far ahead, giving you a true first person feel. That coupled with the endless twist and turns and the overall creep factor provided by long forgotten corridors of a high school basement keep the suspense building. The suspense hike of this film is filled with a multitude of false summits. Every time you think you’re prepared for something to jump out at you they just keep climbing until finally a slight gasp from the person sitting next to you has your jumping out of your skin.
As the things get creepier and the gang begins to freak out, The Gallows leads right into all your standard scary movie faux pas.
This is probably the biggest downfall of the movie, luckily it doesn’t take away from the intensity of the film. The foursome begin to split up for seemingly no reason at all except to allow for each other to slowly be picked off. It would be wonderful if we could start a new trend where the victims were smart. At least then I would feel bad when they met their impending demise. However, The Gallows is not the trend setter. People need to die and by god they’re going to deliver with or without creativity; and even though The Gallows leaves no room for doubt when it comes to whether or not bad things are happening, our gang continues to make mistake after mistake as if they have never once seen a scary movie. Don’t get me wrong, you will be on the edge of the seat throughout the entire thing, but that small, rational voice you can barely hear over your muffled screams will be nagging at you the whole time. “Why did she leave him”, it’ll ask. “Why did he leave her”, it’ll ask. “Why, why, why” it’ll ask. However, you’ll have no time to answer as you try to convince your date it was the girl next to you who just let that whimper out.
Overall the movie delivers. If you are in the mood to be scared and looking for a story with a fun twist then The Gallows will not disappoint. On the other hand if you’re looking for King/Kubrick quality film, save your money and wait for Netflix. I went in with low expectations and came away happily shaken up.