Monday, July 13, 2015

No Noose Is Good Noose

Year: 2015
Director: Travis Cluff & Chris Lofing
Cast: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos
Run Time: 1 hour 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I suppose one of these days I should stop getting excited about found footage horror films. They’re this generation’s carnival hucksters, promising spectacular thrills and spills, pouring all their genuinely impressive showmanship into the marketing for what is inevitably a ramshackle display, stuffed with straw and patched with safety pins and gum.

I fell for As Above, So Below, an insipid Parisian adventure movie with more ideas than intellect. I fell for Devil’s Due, a bland, unnecessary demonic pregnancy flick that gives away its own ending in the first two minutes. And, god help me, I fell for The Pyramid, which had the gall to drag one of the heavy hitters of Egyptian mythology down with it. That said, I am beyond excited for Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, which seems resigned to being apocalyptically insipid (it’s found footage, a combo prequel/sequel, and in 3D, for crying out loud – this is my Holy Grail), so I respect it for that. But I digress.

The slop filling up our trough today is The Gallows, which burst onto the scene a couple months ago with one of the best teasers I’ve ever seen, before proceeding to rip it to shreds by pre-releasing about 8,000 clips, only about half of which actually ended up in the movie, but all of which betray the dreadfully generic quality of literally everything in the film but the single two minute segment displayed in the teaser. I suppose it’s appropriate that a film geared toward the millennial generation should be defeated by over-sharing, but it beaks my heart that my enthusiasm had to be nibbled to death by tiny gnashing jaws instead of – as per usual – swallowed in one massive gulp.

Being a horror fan is like hugging a woodchipper and hoping you don’t get splinters.

The Gallows begins in 1993 with a home video of a high school play – a stuffy, Crucible-esque bore titled The Gallows, in which a squire dresses as a nobleman to win the heart of a fair maiden or some drivel. He is sentenced to death by hanging, but when the gallows prop goes wrong, the young actor is accidentally killed during the performance. I honestly don’t know what they expected, considering that the prop was literally just a fully functioning gallows sitting on a high school stage, but I suppose we must forgive a horror film its premise.

Seriously, please tell me the way this kid was not going to die. Did they forget to do a dress rehearsal?

Anyway, cut to 2013. Ryan (Ryan Shoos) is a football player who has been hired by the drama department to film their goings-on because this is a found footage movie. The school is putting on a revival of The Gallows, led by the spirited and irritating Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Ryan’s best friend and teammate Reese (Reese Mishler) is playing the lead because he has a crush on Pfeifer, but he sucks as an actor, so Ryan suggests that they sneak into the theater the night before the play with his girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) and wreck the set. That way the play won’t go on and Pfeifer can fall into Reese’s comforting arms. It’s a win-win. He says they’ll need utmost stealth so they don’t get caught, but he brings his camera along, because this is a found footage movie.

During their escapade they run into Pfeifer, so they call it off, but they find themselves locked in for the night. And who should show up but the angry ghost of Charlie (the kid who died), dressed as the hangman, grown to adult size – don’t ask questions – and eager to play, noose at the ready.

As if high school theater wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, man.

After wasting what feels like weeks of our time on exposition that amounts to nothing more than “the dudes are stereotypical douchey jocks and the screenwriters think people still use the word schnozz” in a laboriously hyperextended sequence utterly devoid of scares or nuance, finally something happens. And by “something,” I mean “still nothing.” The characters rattle around the empty school for a couple more weeks, argue with each other in that most found footagey of fashions, wander off alone in blatantly incorrect directions down creepy maintenance hallways, flirt with making it an even month, then shake their camera at a ghost. I really don’t think I would even bother with these things if [REC] hadn’t screwed me up so bad. I suppose it’s either this or trauma counseling, and at least movie tickets are ten bucks an hour instead of a hundred.

To the film’s credit, the production design and lighting scheme are at times genuinely spooky. The cinematographer lovingly bestows the stage dressing with weight, always launching the noose into the shot in stark silhouette, allowing it to eat up the frame with its sheer presence. And the night vision color scheme has been done to death, but The Gallows finds a unique aesthetic presence, using the school’s cherry red emergency lights to flood the sets – intensely flattening the film’s dimensionality, pushing it into your face and drenching it in the color of blood. In fact, this trick is used in the film’s single best scene – the one used for the teaser and which has absolutely no valuable context in the narrative. Wheee.

Beyond those two elements (and that one, insolubly terrific scene), The Gallows doesn’t have much going on for it above the typical found footage fare. Once it gets kicking, it’s a decent jack-in-the-box of jump scares, but any feeling it generates will evaporate the instant the credits roll.

Kind of like your appreciation for trailers by the time the fifth one comes on.

It’s fun enough if you’re into that sort of thing: expect a lot of dumb teens making the exact decisions that are most statistically likely to lead to their doom, actors with blank CVs portraying blanker characters, and a camera that craps out at the exact moments that things begin to get interesting.

The plot is at least mildly more layered and interesting than your average “teens trapped overnight” fare, though its various twists and turns can literally be extrapolated from the film’s first two lines by anyone with even an ounce of genre savvy. In fairness, when Sergio and I accurately predicted the ending of this film, we each foresaw equal and opposite halves of the climax. So maybe you’ll be mildly surprised by a slight unforeseen detail, and in a film as rote as this, that’s as monumental as freaking Rosebud.

Of course this is all torn apart by an utterly unnecessary epilogue that overexplains, contradicts, and actively spits upon everything that’s already happened in the movie. I mean, I’m not saying there’s nothing worth spitting upon in The Gallows, but that’s my job, not the film’s. SPOILERS: [The ending rips the ghost from his final resting place, implying that he haunts his girlfriend’s apartment, hanging up his noose on the coat hook, all “honey, I’m home!” a la Desi Arnaz.] Well, that’s what I get for trying to be nice.

TL;DR: The Gallows is a laborious, generic found footage movie.
Rating: 4/10
Should I Spend Money On This? Bring a date who's never seen one of these before and cuddle. Otherwise, skip it.
Word Count: 1244

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