Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: The Gallows

The Gallows was written and directed by Travis Cluff and Christ Lofing. 

This appears to be the duo's first foray into Hollywood movie making. If we're lucky, it'll be their last. Their only previous credits were a couple of short films.

This is another execrable found footage film, a genre which I hate with a white hot passion, so I'm not going to waste your time and mine with an overly lengthy review. You may be wondering why, if I hate films like this so much, I paid to see it. Because I'd already seen all of this summer's big blockbusters and there was precious little else to go see.

Remember when movies used to be shot on actual film instead of videotape, on sets with real production values? Remember when movies starred actual actors instead of friends of the director? Ah, how I wish we could go back to that time. If this is the future of filmmaking, then these movies can go watch themselves.

How do these awful found footage movies keep getting made year after year? Because studios make money off of them, that's why. No matter how poorly these films perform at the box office, they're made so cheaply they can't help but make a profit. The Gallows was shot for just $100,000, and has so far grossed over $21 million. So you know what that means! Sequels, whether we want them or not.

In fact it seems like the creators are banking on it. They practically pull a hamstring trying to make Charlie Grimille into the next horror icon, ala Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Nice try, guys. Somehow I don't think a high school kid dumb enough to be hanged for real during a play quite stacks up to a knife-fingered child killer or an unstoppable machete-weilding hulk.

The Gallows Marketing Team pulled out all the stops, going so far as using one of those "night vision trailers" to promote the film. You know, the kind where they show actual audiences shrieking and covering their eyes as they watch the movie, in a flailing attempt to convince us it's scary and worth our time.

Again, nice try. Unfortunately it's all about as scary as this.

This quote is also from the trailer. Well, I agree with half that statement.

The film clocks in at a paltry 81 minutes! What a gyp! I felt like sitting in my seat for another half hour just to get my money's worth.

SPOILERS, I GUESS

The Plot (such as it is):
In 1993, students at Beatrice High School in Beatrice, Nebraska, performed a play called The Gallows. A student named Charlie Grimille played the lead character, who was sentenced to be hanged. Tragedy struck when a faulty trap door opened on the makeshift gallows, hanging Charlie for real in full view of his co-stars and the audience.

Twenty years later, the Beatrice drama class inexplicably decides to commemorate this tragedy by staging the very same play (!). We're then introduced to our small cast of characters: Ryan, a sarcastic sociopath who films the rehearsals (and as such, the movie), Reese, who's playing the same part as Charlie Grimille, Pfiefer, the co-star and the play's biggest champion, and Cassidy, Ryan's girlfriend.

While goofing off, Ryan interviews a woman named Alexis Ross, who's been attending every rehearsal. She reveals she was present at the original play in 1993 and witnessed Charlie Grimille's death.

Reese has no business being the star of the play, as he's unable to project emotion or even remember his lines. He only auditioned to impress Pfiefer, his secret crush. Ryan resents being forced to work on the play, and realizes Reese doesn't want to be there either. He comes up with a plan— he, Reese and Cassidy will break into the school after hours and destroy the set, forcing the play to be canceled. Reese initially wants nothing to do with this plan, but eventually agrees.

The three break in and trash the stage. They're then confronted by Pfiefer, who demands to know what they're doing. They give her the runaround, but she sees through their lies. Just then a loud noise spooks them, and the four make a run for it. They discover the previously broken stage door is now inexplicably locked. As they head back to the stage, they see it's been completely restored, their damage undone.

The four attempt to find a way out, but every door in the entire school is locked, the land lines are out and they have no cell phone service. They're effectively trapped inside the school. There's lots of running and screaming in the dark, in a desperate attempt at eating up screen time.

The four find a cast photo in the school's display case (!) and discover that Reese's father was in the original play. He apparently called in sick, which forced Charlie Grimille to take his place. Apparently the ghost of Charlie Grimille blames Reese's dad for his death, and starts picking off the kids one by one in revenge (why he's pissed at the other kids is apparently none of our concern).

There's lots more barely visible action, as Ryan and Cassidy are hanged by Charlie's ghost, leaving Reese and Pfiefer the only survivors. Charlie's ghost somehow forces them to recreate the end of the play. Reese steps up on the gallows, puts the noose around his neck and is hanged for real, just as Charlie was. Alexis, who's been in the auditorium watching the play unfold, gives it a standing ovation and reveals she was Charlie's girlfriend back in 1993.

In the final scene, the police enter the home of Alexis Ross and find her combing Pfiefer's hair, as the two watch a twenty year old videotape of Charlie Grimille's on-stage death. It's implied that Pfiefer is the daughter of Alexis and Charlie. As a policeman call for backup, Charlie appears and attacks him.

Thoughts:
• I can't think of any possible reason why the school officials would ever allow this play to be staged again, especially in our current hypersensitive society, and especially after it caused the death of a cast member. 

They're supposed to be "commemorating" the original production. In fact, Pfiefer even brags that the new programs use the same design as the original. I don't know... it seems like extremely poor taste to me. It's like performing a recreation of a car wreck that killed a bunch of prom goers.

• Supposedly Charlie Grimille was hanged when the trap door in the stage gallows opened prematurely, before he was "ready." That means they obviously planned to fake hang him at some point during the production. Are you freakin' kidding me?

How was this high school drama department planning on safely simulating a hanging in the first place? Charlie was hanged for real, so there was no extra long, breakaway or elastic rope, or any other safety measures built into the gallows. Who thought this was a good idea? And to top if all off, they built the gallows the exact same way twenty years later.

Instead of Charlie's ghost seeking revenge on Reese, he should have gone after the idiot director who built a goddamned working gallows for a high school play back in 1993.

• There's not one sympathetic or likeable character in this entire film. Ryan is a complete and utter asshole, and may even be a sociopath. Cassidy has absolutely no redeeming qualities, willingly going along with anything Ryan suggests. Pfiefer seems unhealthily obsessed with the play. Reese comes closest to being somewhat likable, but even he easily lies to Pfiefer, who's supposed to be his crush.

Once the killing started, I couldn't have been less concerned about the lives of any of these people. Was I supposed to be rooting for Charlie Grimille?

• At the beginning of the film we see Reese and Pfiefer rehearsing their lines for the play. Pfiefer seems to be quite an accomplished actress, but Reese misses his cues and struggles with his lines. He's almost cartoonishly bad, to make sure we all get the point that he's a terrible stage actor.

The problem is, once the rehearsal's over, his normal "movie" acting is every bit as bad as his "stage" acting. In fact, everyone in this film is a horrible, horrible actor. I doubt any of them could say "Hello" convincingly. That's pretty much par for the course in found footage films though.

• Ryan notices the stage door has a broken lock, and plans to use it to sneak into the school after hours and vandalize the stage. All the characters, including the drama teacher, seem to know about this broken door, but don't seem the least bit concerned by it. I find it hard to believe that no one's robbed this school blind before now.

• Ryan, Reese and Cassidy sneak into the school after dark and trash the stage. This "vandalism" sequence is extremely brutal and hard to watch, as it consists of the group smashing a couple of pieces of prop crockery and actually knocking over a couple of cardboard trees. Reese even uses a screwdriver to remove the gallows stairs. Dear god... it would take the theater department minutes to repair the vast amount of damage they caused.

• At one point the kids walk past a display case, which prominently displays memorabilia from the original 1993 production of The Gallows. Among the items in the case is a photo of the smiling cast, including Charlie Grimille. Why the hell would any teacher or principal in their right mind allow this display? "Hey everyone, look! It's a photo of that kid that died in a horrific freak accident onstage! Look at 'im smile! He has no idea he's only got a day or two left to live!"

• Man, that is one elaborate high school theater! It looks more like something you'd see on Broadway than in rural Nebraska. It's got a huge system of walkways in the rafters that rivals that of the Paris Opera. A far cry from the cramped auditorium stages in most schools.

• Math is hard! The original play took place twenty years ago. It's implied that Pfiefer is the daughter of Charlie Grimille and his girlfriend Alexis Ross. If that's true, then wouldn't that make Pfiefer twenty years old? Nineteen at the absolute youngest? Is she really supposed to be a nineteen year old high school student? Maybe she flunked third grade two or three times?

• There's no way this story was ever going to be good, but I might have liked it a bit more if they'd just shot is as a normal film, with real cameras and actors, instead of as a thrice-damned found footage film. As always happens in such movies, I spent most of the movie wondering why the hell the characters were filming everything while they're supposed to be running for their lives.

• There's only one truly creepy moment in the film: when Cassidy is sobbing in the dark, the spectral image of Charlie slowly becomes visible behind her. Too bad the original Halloween already did the exact same scene almost forty years ago, and better.

There's a tiny spark of a decent idea at the heart of The Gallows, but it's marred by atrocious acting, non-existent production values, amateur camera work, and unlikable characters. I give it a D.

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