JULY 9, 2015
This will be a (slightly) shorter review than most HMAD entries, because quite frankly, The Gallows didn't give me a lot to work with. I almost didn't bother to write a review at all (was gonna just tweet a few things) but a quick check on Alexa revealed how far the site has plummeted since I stopped updating daily, which is concerning since part of that non-frequency is due to my writing a book that I'll need people to come here on the regular to know when it's available. So you'll get a review of a lousy found footage movie that you can read at a red light, and I'll spare my twitter followers more thoughts on this shockingly flat, long past its prime entry in the now-over POV race.
Oddly, the one thing the movie gets right is that it feels like a genuine video shot by an obnoxious high school kid. As anyone who has read my takes on some of the other major FF releases can vouch for, I particularly hate when there's no logic behind the footage we're seeing - impossible cutaways, people filming things for absolutely no reason just so they can ensure the camera is on when something scary happens, people standing there filming their friends being killed - all of these things drive me up a wall and keep me from engaging in the film. But here, I bought like 75-80% of the footage as something I could imagine filming myself in that situation. One scene even plays out mostly while looking at the characters' feet (attn: fetishists), because they're arguing and that's what people would do if holding a camera up before things got heated - they'd drop it to their side and engage as a human being. It's only in the film's final scene that the camera logic is completely out the window, but by then I stopped caring anyway.
Because while they got the camera right, they screwed up everything else. The movie has almost nothing to it beyond the one line plot synopsis: some kids break into their high school at night, get stuck, and are menaced by the ghost of a kid who died in a school play 20 years ago. There are a couple of reveals concerning why it's after these kids specifically (well, one of them), but it's an empty attempt at making the film more interesting, because (spoiler) the connection our hero has to the original incident involves his father, and that's a character we see briefly, 30-40 minutes before this revelation, and never again. For it to have any meaning, he'd have to re-enter the picture and explain his side of the story, but that doesn't happen. So who cares?
(That it's a reveal even though the picture of his father has been hanging up in the room that he's been practicing a play every day for weeks is something we can just let slide, I guess.)
Dropped characters are just the order of the day in this movie, actually. Early on our hero goes out of his way to film a janitor going about his business and saying "working late tonight?", to which the janitor answers in the affirmative - this seems to establish his presence/another victim for later when they go inside after hours, but nope. Ditto for the Jonah Hill-y stage manager who the protagonist torments (if you haven't guessed by now, the guy with the camera is an asshole), as they are engaged in some back and forth pranking/retaliation that goes nowhere, since he doesn't show up in the locked off school either. I suppose one could defend these things as mere misdirection, but that only works if they're directing your attention away from the real threats or suspects, which do not exist in this one-note movie. It's either padding to fill out the barely feature length run time (an exact 80 minutes, with credits and a scene we see play out twice), or sloppy writing. Take your pick. It's a toss up to me, but I might give "sloppy writing" the edge based on how many jaw-droppingly bad bits of exposition are shoehorned into the dialogue, a problem that starts in the movie's very first scene when an audience member filming a school play (starring his own kid, one would assume) starts talking about how one of the actors was a last minute replacement.
It's also not scary at all. As always I use the audience to gauge the effectiveness of these things to see how well they're working since I'm immune to jumps and such, but the scattered audience members who joined me for this 9:15pm screening were, I guess, equally just annoyed that they were missing Hannibal for this, because I swear I only heard one person shout at one of the scares (far cry from its hilariously overblown ads suggesting that it's the scariest movie ever or whatever). Worse, there's no sense of dread - it's clear who the villain is, more or less what he wants, and the idiotic twist that explains how he connects to one of the other characters is too laughable and out of nowhere to add to the non-existent tension. Even the light supernatural elements about doors that can't be opened fail to register, and I say this as someone who can count sneaking into my own high school after hours (ironically to obtain a videotape) as one of the more intense moments of my adolescence, since I'm sure being caught would result in some sort of major disciplinary action. Shouldn't I be even the slightest bit worked up to see this sort of thing on-screen in a legit horror movie? Having a connection to the material is a key factor in how much you respond to horror movies (hence why I now have trouble with evil/dead children movies since becoming a father), so it's an even bigger indictment of the movie's failures that I was unable to feel anything but apathy.
Thankfully, the trailer's awful "Smells Like Teen Spirit" cover is not included. That and the believable camerawork are about the only positives I could find in this thing. It didn't exactly have a high bar to clear for me to say something like "best wide release found footage movie in years!" (I specify wide release because the indie scene still produces some minor gems, like Afflicted), but it couldn't even manage that. It's maybe better than Paranormal Activity 4 and Devil's Due, but that's about it. This is the sort of movie where I wouldn't even bother yelling at someone for taking out their phone - I'd be thankful that they offered something that actually engaged me.
What say you?