Movie Review: The Gallows

There are a lot of movies I will make an effort to see and some I will skip. I will see Self/less tomorrow because there was no early screening (not a good sign), followed by Magic Mike XXL if I can get a girl to join me, and possibly Me and Earl and the Dying Girl if I can afford it. I will not see Minions because I am not a child or Amy because, no offense, I do not want to watch a two hour documentary about a junkie.

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Regardless of my professional obligation to critique new releases, I try to avoid seeing modern horror movies. It is not that I am a snob or easily frightened, but because they are modern horror movies. With the exception of It Follows, Insidious, and The Conjuring, the genre has gone from interesting and unique, to cheap shovel-ware reboots, sequels, and prequels in an attempt to capitalize off dumb teenager who know not quality. You can apply the same reasoning to the film industry as a whole, but horror has been hit the hardest. Original works are starved of creativity, plagued with jump-scares, and built on elements barrowed from better movies. Is The Gallows among the bad or should you give it a look?

While not terrible when considering other modern horror movies, it is not good either. Gallows is exactly what you expect with plenty found footage tropes, cheap jump scares, and a contrived ending that does not make a lick of sense.

To help his friend with a girl, Ryan, played by Ryan Shoos, convinces his girlfriend Cassidy, played by Cassidy Gifford, and said friend Reese, played by Reese Mishler, to break into their high school and destroy the set for a play called The Gallows. Unbeknownst to them, the theater is haunted by the spirit of Charlie, an actor who was killed in an accidental hanging during the play years ago.

If you have seen any found footage movie, you have seen Gallows. It is not at all special in what it does for horror or the style. It is so ordinary and predictable I knew exactly how it was going to play out, except for the ending which was clearly added in post-production. Whilst plugging my ears in anticipation for the jump-scares, I found myself bored and wanting to leave the theater.

But it is not a bad movie.

Gallows is about as average as average can get. The predictability and shameless use of tropes compounded its banality. Worse yet was seeing what could have made the movie better rendered moot by the lack of creativity and gross miscalculations in what makes a scene scary, achieving its goal as modern horror.

The most glaring problem with Gallows is the use of ambient sound. Apart from long spans of silence that signaled a coming jump scare, a low hum plays at points of ghost shenanigans, negating any attempt at building tension and allowing the audience to feel terror. There was one moment that could have been genius if the composer would stop copying Akira Yamaoka (you are cool if you get that reference). It Follows had ambient sound, but the way it was shot and put together created an atmosphere that worked in tandem with the music. Gallows has no atmosphere and made no attempt to create an environment compounded by fear.

Surprisingly, there was one aspect I enjoyed. The character of Ryan reminded me of me if I were in a regular high school. He does not care at all being a theater technician, making fun of the drama students behind their backs, abusing them, calling them nerds, and taking every opportunity to make a point his apathy. I know bullies are terrible, but Ryan was a bully one could like on the basis of irony. He was so nonchalant about the situation I wish the whole film were about him actively destroying the dignity of theater.

If you like good horror that is actually scary, do not see The Gallows. There are more than enough titles worthy of your time. But if you are a teenager who likes these movies because you do not know quality (and I know you exist because four of you sat behind me at the screening), you will like it.

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