‘Who knew a working gallows could be so dangerous?‘ – Dara Higgins on The Gallows
Twenty years ago the local high school put on a play called The Gallows. Apparently the least wooden of its participants was an actual gallows the kids had constructed, swinging noose, trapdoor and everything else you would expect. Lo, but tragedy did strike and the lead chap, Charlie, was horrifically and accidentally hanged on said gallows. Who knew a working gallows could be so dangerous?
Since then the school theatre has been the scene of the odd spooky creak or door closing, and the name of Charlie is not invoked by production crews, for fear of the bad luck it may bring. That’s our legend.
Fast forward to now, and we’re presented with some footage, found by the local filth, who are investigating the “events” that occurred around an ill considered re-run of the original play, complete with another constructed gallows. How this appeared to be a good idea to anyone in the school is the enduring mystery here, but they went with it.
The amateur camera man here is Ryan. It’s clear, seconds into his commentary, that his inevitable, and doubtless horrific death is what’s going to keep us watching. Ryan, our primary irritant, is a bullying jock half-wit who’s ben roped into recording the production of the play for some reason. It’s the last day of rehearsals and Ryan films his BFF Reece struggle to emote his lines with his female co-star, Pfifer (first name, apparently), all the while giggling at how sappy an enterprise this is. All the while never shutting the fuck up. Ever. When will he die?
Reece is troubled. He used to be a football star and has a chin you could grate parmesan off, but somehow he’s ended up in this gay play, for which he seems wholly unsuited. So our camera wielding cockeferret of a friend and his cheerleader beau, Cassidy (first name, again) devise a plan. Creep into the theatre that night and trash the set. That way opening night won’t happen, and Reece will be spared his embarrassment. Also, he’ll be able to lend a shoulder of comfort to the devastated object of his desire, Pfifer, who’ll be most upset, being as she is the prime mover behind the resurrection of the play. Handily they have this entire conversation on camera, which is probably in no way incriminating.
Thus our protagonists find themselves in the school alone at night. But then the spooky things start to happen. Like doors don’t open and noises happen and the gallows, which they were hitherto dismantling, rights itself once more. The eerily empty school corridors are an effectively creepy backdrop for the fairly run of the mill frightfest that follows. The friends’ blithering handily points out the subtle plot points you may otherwise have slept though. “This door never shuts!”, “That must be the janitor’s sandwich!” “Are those my feet?” and the currently ubiquitous “I have no coverage on my phone!” line that someone in every horror movie is contractually obliged to deliver at some point.
Throughout their fumble through the unlit corridors of school the plot is slowly unravelled. It becomes clear that the paranormal entity that stalks them harbours some serious grudges. Lucky for it they decided to enter the school that night, isn’t it? Because they might not have. Reece could have said “this is an idiot and illegal idea,” but he chose not to. So instead they’re chased around the gloom, all the while wielding a camera (for light, you understand) in front of them. While there are some flesh-crawlingly spooky moments, most frights are delivered with the aid of an incredibly loud noise, like an unpleasant slap off a fish. But then, what does one expect form the hand-held-found footage genre. It persists, probably because it’s so cheap. The main characters also are using their real names here, possibly in a nod to the Rosetta Stone of the found footage genre, The Blair Witch Project. But BWP this ain’t. If anything it serves only to reinforce that the tired, trope riddled found-footage genre is now no more than a shuffling, maggot riddled dead thing, dragging itself along on broken wrists and groaning incoherently. Time to put this fucker to sleep, people.
The real horror on show here is the verity of the American High School. Firstly the building itself, even taking into account its inherent in-animation, is the best thing about the film. Secondly, high school life looks fucking terrifying. Why is everyone so mean? And stupid? What’s that about?