Friday, September 16, 2016

The Gallows

Living in the Central Valley of California, the cities in this region are basically notorious for a couple of things: extreme heat in the summer and lots of fog in the winter…and Alan Autry (Bubba from the “In the Heat of the Night” television series) was mayor of Fresno from 2001 to 2009.  Really, there’s not much else the area is known for, so when word had gotten out last year that a Hollywood film was being shot in and around the city of Madera—as well as a few establishing shots around the Fresno area—it became a pretty big deal. 

Even though I’d heard about the film production and knew it was to be a horror film, I couldn’t help but think of the disdain I have for most horror movies released these days.  Knowing that the movie was going to take place primarily at a high school, I couldn’t help but think of the worst—teens with cell phones, talking about the latest fads or music, speaking in their cryptic tongue, and just taking me out of the movie altogether.  When the movie was released, I had no intention of going to see it and didn’t think much of it until I’d seen some of the television spots.

If I remember correctly, I think the studio used the same tactics that Paranormal Activity used before it, showing parts of the trailer mixed with shots of the audience’s reactions to some of the scary scenes.  Though this method of advertisement worked with me and had me interested, I had resisted and only planned to see the movie when it was released to DVD.  But some of the scenes that were shown from the movie were pretty downright scary…still, there were doubts.

So…the day had arrived and I had Netflix send me the disc.  The synopsis of The Gallows?

Twenty years after a horrific accident during a small town school play, students at the school resurrect the failed show in a misguided attempt to honor the anniversary of the tragedy—but soon discover that some things are better left alone.

Film buffs, critics, and general audiences have argued the merits and shortcomings of found footage for quite some time now.  A lot of people think it’s already jumped the shark, but quite a few think it still has a spot to fill in today’s cinema, especially in the horror genre.  Since 1998, when The Blair Witch Project popularized this style of film, I have found myself on both sides of the argument, thinking that it fits in some films and sometimes it just doesn’t.  My overall opinion about it is if there is good reason for it to be in the film, then I’m okay with it.  An example of a good reason to include found footage in a film, in The Visit, the two children in that story are meeting their grandparents for the first time, so the eldest child—aspiring to be a documentary filmmaker—decides to film and record the visit on video.  A bad example (and even though I love the movie), in Cloverfield, it really tests your acceptance of the whole ordeal being recorded because most people in a state of panic and wanting to make themselves safe would probably not be video recording the situation—they’d be thinking of staying alive, running, and getting away from the huge monster that’s endangering their lives.

With that said, I’ll say it upfront, here, before discussing the movie that the choice to have this a found footage type of horror movie was probably a bad choice.  Much like Cloverfield, the constant recording of the characters’ surroundings doesn’t seem realistic or logical.  But again, like that monster movie, you’ll soon forget about how unnerving it’d be for someone to be constantly video recording when the shit hits the fan. 

The horror movies I enjoy watching are typically the slasher or monster type of films that I’d seen as a kid during the late night “creature feature” flicks that were presented by a charismatic host, like the late Bob Wilkins who’d presented those gems throughout the 1970s.  I guess he could be the reason for my love of horror movies because those were my formative years, growing up and watching those eerie and creepy movies on television. 

Sorry for the digression, but the horror movies that never really unnerve me is the supernatural kind, the ones that feature ghosts or hauntings.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m able to have a blast with them, but I can’t really say that they scare me.  It’s funny, because if I were in those situations in real life, I’d probably piss myself. we get into this movie, and after a little flashback of the accident that happened at the school years before, The Gallows starts off as a found footage montage of life in high school, albeit with a douche bag bully being the one that’s recording everything.  At this point of the movie, I was tempted to eject the disc and go on to watch something else.  However, it does give you some character build-up, but at the cost of having to hear this guy, Ryan (Ryan Shoos) get on your nerves.  Once the decision is made for he and his friends—Reese (Reese Houser), Pfeifer (Pfeifer Ross), and Cassiddy (Cassidy Spilker)—to meet after dark to trash the stage for the play’s revival, the movie starts to get interesting.

Now I know I’d said that the choice to have this a found footage subgenre was a bad one, but it still helps with the frightening tone of the film.  Because what it adds to it is a sense of being in the video recorder’s body as they see what’s happening around them through the viewfinder as if you’re watching with your own two eyes.  Of course, for that to work, you have to forget that there’s someone that’s constantly video recording everything instead of dropping the camera and trying to run from danger.

Much like The Blair Witch Project, the movie goes with the no-way-to-escape horror movie theme as the friends are stuck in the school with all the doors and windows locked, giving the movie a sudden claustrophobic tone to it.  Entrances that were easy to get into suddenly become locked, areas of the school turn maze-like, and the mood of the film changes to a sense of unease and being trapped.

My final “bit” on The Gallows?

Though the film takes a while to get going—with the excruciating addition of having to listen to the drivel of the jackass holding the camera—once the story moves into the school after dark, that’s when the fun begins.  The scares and deaths that we see are pretty terrifying and the directors, Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, knew what they were doing when they staged these scenes.  I had really liked that opening where we see what happened—through a convincingly primitive video—of a high school actor that met his death because of a horrible accident during the play twenty years prior.  A lot of the situations are enough to get under your skin and really work to create terrifying tensions for the characters, conveying it brilliantly to the audience.  The reasoning given at the end for everything that had happened throughout the story may seem a bit paper thin, but the overall presentation here makes for a nice horror movie.  I wouldn’t miss this if I were you.

Thanks for reading!

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