The Ninjabot

Film Review: THE GALLOWS (2015)

Posted on July 9, 2015 at 4:25 pm by Dylan Reynolds

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It can be said that the “Found Footage sub genre” had its originations in the “mockumentary” exploitation films of the 50s/60s- namely the Yeti investigative THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK and the xenophobia scare film MONDO CANE (and the countless imitators that followed). But today many acknowledge the Eurotrash gross out classic CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) as being the first true Found Footage horror film that purported to show “evidence” (i.e. film reels and later tapes/ hard drives) of a handful of folks “venturing into the unknown” and getting their asses killed or going missing.

Other precursors followed (most notably the ’92 Belgian serial killer flick MAN BITES DOG) but the sub genre truly came to form, as we know it today, with a pair of independently produced films released at the onset of the millennium… ‘99s THE LAST BROADCAST and the pop culture phenomenon that was THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

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Despite the huge profits generated from BLAIR WITCH there were only a handful of Found Footage films that were produced in its immediate wake (and nothing that really caught on or captured the public’s imagination). Thus one could rightfully assume (like I did) that lighting wouldn’t strike twice and Found Footage was a “one and done” kind of gimmick.

Which is one of the many reasons why I’m not a millionaire today- because 2007s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was a true water shed moment for the sub genre with the cost Paranormal-Activity-DVD-cover1effective format becoming not only a favorite for studio genre fare but for the direct-to-DVD/ VOD markets as well. And though there was the occasional stand out (REC/ QUARENTINE and GRAVE ENCOUNERS come to mind) most of these offerings from the “Golden Age of the Found Footage Horror film” ranged from disposable to forgettable (LAST EXORCISM) with some that were downright unwatchable (I’m looking in your direction DEVIL INSIDE/ APOLLO 18).

But even despite this- the sub genre proved surprisingly versatile over the years by expanding from horror and into others genres. Science Fiction being the second most favored (CLOVERFIELD, DISTRICT 9, CHRONICLE). And there have also been Crime Dramas (END OF WATCH), Sex Comedies (PROJECT X) and Kids Adventure (EARTH TO ECHO) that have utilized the Found Footage aesthetic.

Again- there have been effective films and moments littered throughout the sub genre- but for the most part when people think Found Footage they don’t go with “realism and tension filled” but rather ‘barf inducing’ shaky cam, dark lighting, amateur acting, and improvised Unknowndialogue with way too much yelling and screaming. Which has left many critics and jaded horror buffs proclaiming the death kneel of the Found Footage sub genre over and over again.

But a couple months back came the release of UNFRIENDED- which didn’t exactly alleviate any of the aforementioned criticisms but surprisingly managed to break new ground by presenting the whole film in ‘real time’ on a computer screen via social media (video chat, texts, emails etc.). As of today the film has made about 50 million in theaters on a reported 1 million dollar budget (and this is before VOD and DVD) so its success will probably bring about more sequels and a new wave of “social media” horror films. And let’s face it- as long as a studio or producer can invest in a low budget production with limited marketing efforts and return high profits you can bet they will milk that cash cow until its bone dry.

Which brings us to THE GALLOWS- the latest Found Footage release from the reigning purveyor of modern studio horror- Blumhouse Productions (and its producer/ figurehead Jason Blum). The foundation on which the Blumhouse empire was built was the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and since its success Blum has cranked out a succession of Blumhouse-Productionssequels and also developed a formula for producing “under 5 or 10 million dollar budget” productions that have cast/ crew working scale for a promised back end. This frugal method of making movies has given Blumhouse an impressive low cost/ high profit success rate (i.e. THE PURGE, INSIDIOUS, and SINISTER)- which have become profitable horror franchises all their own.

Now the “5/ 10 million dollar genre flick” is one type of movie Blumhouse makes- but they have also remained true to their roots by acquiring independently produced horror films and sprinkling a little “Blumhouse fairy dust” on them to make them “real movies”. In the case of the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY they went back in and added more “effects and scares” and apparently the same thing was done with UNFRIENDED.

And by all accounts this has continued with THE GALLOWS- which according to imdb trivia was produced and shot in Fresno by some non-Hollywood insiders. And taken at face value one can say that these filmmakers did a really good job. The film has some effective atmosphere and a creepy backstory with some decent scares/ tension present in the films later half. But even assuming Blumhouse went back in to “spice things up” the movie doesn’t really add anything new to the conversation for both horror and the Found Footage sub genre- unlike the equally flawed but ultimately more interesting and unique UNFRIENDED.

The story itself is the usual cookie cutter/ slasher movie set up we’ve all seen a million times over and can probably recite by heart at this point… Years ago- during a school play hqdefaultperformance- a malfunctioned stage prop causes a young man to get hung and killed in front of a horrified audience. Cut to years later and the drama class has come up with “the worst idea ever” and are now putting on the same play complete with a reproduction of the original set.

We are introduced to a bunch of characters and some ‘high school drama’ sub plots that are all but abandoned after the first half hour. In between we get some backstory and ominous warnings that “the theater is haunted” and we get to know our four central characters. There is the well meaning Meat Head who quit the football team because he has a crush on the Drama Queen and now finds himself way over his head by trying to play the male lead in the play. And there’s the Meat Head’s best friend- an annoying Jock who is tasked (I guess) with documenting the production of the school play and therefore provides the justification for having the camera rolling the whole time. Into this mix is the Jock’s hottie Cheerleader Girlfriend- because as per the genre we need some more “lambs for the slaughter”.

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Some plot contrivances bring this group into the theater/ school the night before the premier and they soon find themselves inexplicably locked inside. Things go bump in the night and the tension continues to rack up as the group gets picked off one-by-one by a figure dressed as an executioner and who uses a noose as his “Jason’s machete/ Freddy’s glove”. By the end we get a big reveal/ plot twist that any discerning genre fan can see coming from a mile away but is still fairly effective. It all wraps up in an “ending stinger” that has all the ear marks of a Blumhouse “post addition” that all but promises that a GALLOWS 2 will be cranked out within a year provided this one becomes profitable (which it probably will).

maxresdefault-1Again- THE GALLOWS is pretty standard stuff and doesn’t break any new ground and is about as derivative as one can get. But these flicks are all about execution- and unfortunately besides a few good moments of genuine suspense and creepiness (the red hallway scene being a stand out)- the filmmakers rely way too much on LOUD SOUNDS and SMASH CUTS to make you jump in your seat. It gets the desired result but I wouldn’t exactly call that effective- it’s just more annoying- especially when they keep doing it.

Speaking of annoying- the movie’s first half is a bit of a chore to sit through because the 11350608_842114449206453_6514551105113622420_nJock who is shooting all of the “set up” is very grating and unlikeable. If I wasn’t stuck in a theater and instead watching this movie on Netflix steaming I could have seen myself shutting it off after about twenty minutes because it gets that bad. Which would be unfortunate because the “good parts” do eventually come once the movie gets its groove- with its best stuff in the last half hour. But getting there may be a challenge for some.

But now the more important question… is it worth fifteen bucks?

THE GALLOWS is one of those weird cases where my initial reaction would be to wait for Netflix or VOD if you’re at all interested. But then again- I’m not sure if it would be as effective if you’re not immersed in darkness and watching with a receptive audience on a Saturday night (that hopefully aren’t talking or playing on their phones… one could hope, right?).

Bottom line- the movie is not that great or even that memorable but I’ve seen enough bad horror movies and even more crappy Found Footage movies to know it isn’t the worst thing ever. And if you’re a big horror fan then you know this is probably your last chance to see a fright flick on the big screen until PARANORMAL 5 drops in October- also from Blumhouse.

Sometimes we are only as good as our options.

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