You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Gallows’

This derivative found-footage horror movie won't hang around in theaters for long.

Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2309260/

One advantage of selling horror movies to teenagers is that they’re less likely to already know all the genre tropes. That’s about the only thing working for “The Gallows,” a routine found-footage chiller of interest mostly to those who weren’t yet old enough to catch “Paranormal Activity” in its theatrical release a mere six years ago. Fortunately, the microbudget feature helming debut of Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff has a relatively low bar to clear at the B.O., even if grosses fall short of the summer’s other spookfests, “Poltergeist” and “Insidious: Chapter 3.”

The filmmakers quickly establish their mythology in an effective enough urban-legend-caught-on-videotape opening sequence set in 1993, in which Nebraska high-school thespian Charlie Grimille literally dies onstage in a freak accident during a school play. Twenty years later, the school has rather inexplicably scheduled a tribute performance of the same play, titled “The Gallows,” despite concerns from some parents that Charlie’s ghost haunts the auditorium where he perished.

Such paranormal activity is the last thing on the mind of football star Reese (Reese Mishler), moonlighting as the revival’s lead actor in order to nurse a schoolboy crush on leading lady Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). The would-be romance is an endless source of amusement for Reese’s obnoxious buddy Ryan (Ryan Shoos), whose convenient habit of filming everything he sees provides our window onto the action. The kid has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and framing key conversations like a pro, even when he leaves his camera unattended on the ground.

Ryan is also responsible for the film’s requisite terrible idea when he convinces Reese they should break into the school at night and destroy the play’s set, saving the less-than-confident Reese from embarrassing himself onstage in front of Pfeifer on opening night. Ryan’s peppy cheerleader g.f. Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford, daughter of Frank and Kathie Lee) insists on tagging along, but the attempted vandalism hits a snag when Pfeifer unexpectedly shows up, too.

Popular on Variety

That’s the least of the gang’s problems when they discover they’re locked inside the building, their phones don’t work, and a crucial part of the set they thought was destroyed — the steps to the titular gallows and a noose exactly like the one that snapped Charlie’s neck — mysteriously reassembles. After deciding to explore the bowels of the school in search of a way out, things go from bad to worse faster than anyone can say “phantom of the opera.”

Getting locked inside an empty school at night is a solidly bone-chilling premise for teens, and a certain subset of that audience won’t mind that nearly every one of Lofing and Cluff’s ostensibly scary setpieces can be seen coming a mile away (mostly because we’ve already seen them in other movies). Loud noises, narrow corridors, locker doors opening and closing on their own, a television set that turns on by itself to provide expositional news footage — “The Gallows” isn’t without a certain amount of atmosphere, it simply feels borrowed wholesale.

That would matter less with a better script, but the four main characters are paper-thin even by genre norms. The painfully protracted first act depends on the assumed improbability that an athlete would date a drama geek (hasn’t anyone in this town seen “Glee”?), and the climactic twist raises more questions than it answers; without spoiling, suffice it to say the teens are up against a very patient and very vengeful spirit with a soft spot for needlessly elaborate schemes.

“The Gallows” is the sort of forgettable programmer that could be due for rediscovery down the line in the event that one of its fresh-faced cast members blossoms into a genuine movie star. Judging by the admittedly slim basis of what’s onscreen, the best bet would be Gifford, who stands out as both the most charismatic and comfortable on camera among the central quartet.

Cinematographer Edd Lukas has the thankless job of making everything the audience sees look like it was captured by narcissistic and/or terrified teens, and if some of those moments are a little too polished — especially the striking way in which the climax unfolds in a single shot from behind the action (at least until a second camera is introduced) — he can be forgiven for not playing down to the material.

Film Review: 'The Gallows'

Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, Calif., July 6, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 81 MIN.

Production: A Warner Bros. release of a New Line Cinema presentation of a Blumhouse/Entertainment 360/Tremendum Pictures production. Produced by Jason Blum, Guymon Casady, Dean Schnider, Benjamin Forkner, Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff. Executive producers, Dave Neustadter, Walter Hamada, Couper Samuelson, Brad Jacobson, Steven Imhoff, Steven Hrdlicka, Debbie Hrdlicka.

Crew: Directed, written by Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff. Camera (color, HD), Edd Lukas; editor, Lofing; music, Zach Lemmon, 10K Islands; production designer, Stephanie Hass; costume designer, Nicki Stewart, Jessica Peter; sound (Dolby Digital), Vincent Keenan, Ethan Ellenberger, Brandon Payan; sound designer, Brandon Jones; re-recording mixer, Brandon Jones; visual effects, Lofing, Cluff; stunt coordinator, Tony Snegoff; line producer, Gabriela Revilla Lugo; assistant director, James Mahoney; second unit camera, Kyle Gentz; casting, Carollyn Devore.

With: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford.

More Film

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Johnny Ma on the Dynamics of New Era Film Production in China

    Shanghai-born Canadian filmmaker Johnny Ma says he’d planned to make three films in China before moving on to other things, but the current state of the Chinese industry has “forced his hand” and convinced him to move on early after two. Currently living in Mexico, his next project is actually in TV: a pilot for [...]

  • 'Wonder Woman 1984' Trailer: Gal Gadot

    'Wonder Woman 1984' Trailer: Gal Gadot Returns With Pedro Pascal, Kristen Wiig

    “Wonder Woman 1984” dropped its first trailer on Sunday, with Gal Gadot returning as the titular Amazonian goddess. The film is set, of course, in the 1980s in America, decades after the first film’s events. Kristen Wiig is playing Wonder Woman’s infamous comic-book nemesis Cheetah, while Chris Pine is returning for the sequel. It’s unclear, [...]

  • Over the Sea

    Macao Film Review: 'Over the Sea'

    The beginning is a fairy tale, or a nursery rhyme. A woman nurses her squalling baby in a house by an orchard near the sea. Sunlight slants in through the open windows, the mother hums a lullaby, and then brings her son outside and places him in a cot suspended from the apple-laden branches of [...]

  • CCA Film Nominations

    Critics' Choice: 'The Irishman,' 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Lead Movie Nominations

    “The Irishman” has picked up the most film nominations for the 35th annual Critics’ Choice Awards. The Martin Scorsese gangster drama goes into the awards show with 14 noms, including best picture, director, acting ensemble as well as best actor (Robert De Niro) and supporting actor (Al Pacino and Joe Pesci), the Critics’ Choice Association [...]

  • Parasite

    'Parasite' Named Best Film of 2019 by L.A. Film Critics Association

    Members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. met Sunday to vote on the year’s best cinema accomplishments. Recent winners of the group’s top prize include “Roma,” “Call Me by Your Name,” “Moonlight,” “Spotlight,” “Boyhood,” “Her”/”Gravity” and “Amour.” “Parasite” has fared the best, taking not only best picture, but also best director for Bong Joon [...]

  • Jumanji The Next Level

    Box Office: 'Jumanji 2' Kicks Off Overseas With $52 Million as 'Frozen 2' Powers Toward $1 Billion

    Disney’s “Frozen 2” skated past international box office competition again as the animated sequel propels toward the billion-dollar mark globally. “Frozen 2” generated another $90 million from 48 foreign territories, boosting its worldwide weekend haul to $124.9 million. After three weekends in theaters, Disney’s musical follow-up has made $919.7 million and should cross $1 billion [...]

  • Lily James

    Lily James Delivers Masterclass in Charm in Macao

    British actor, Lily James delivered a masterclass in charm and good humor at a seminar on Sunday at the International Film Festival and Awards Macao. Questioned on stage by one of the festival’s senior programmers, James brightly chatted her way through eight years of a screen career that has taken her from “Downton Abbey” to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content