Monday, 10 August 2015

Movie Review: The Gallows (2015)



…Boo!

Was that scary? Well, how about if I do it another thousand times?

Still no?

Well then, be thankful you’re only reading about today’s movie instead of watching it yourself. This is The Gallows.

The plot: Twenty years after a high school production of The Gallows that resulted in the death of one of the cast members Charlie, Beatrice High decides to put on the play once more. When Ryan (Ryan Shoos) discovers that his friend Reese (Reese Mishler) is going to be in it, and that he isn’t a good stage actor, he convinces Reese to come along with him and his girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) and sneak into the school late at night to trash the production. However, as they find themselves trapped within the walls of the school, they notice a presence in there with them… and it wants the play to continue.

I have talked briefly before about my utter hatred for how most modern day horror films are written, specifically the idea that intentionally making the main characters as unlikeable as possible is a good thing, and it is here that all of the reasons why I hate it are brought out into the open. First off, we have the character of Ryan who is manning the in-universe camera for the most part. When he isn’t trying to be a racier store-brand Thomas Sanders (and failing miserably), he’s making jokes about people involved in the play “choking worse than Charlie” and generally treating everyone like trash. I’ll admit that writing funny assholes isn’t the easiest thing in the world, since they can descend quickly into being just loathsome people without proper care being taken, but just being excessively dickish to people isn’t funny in it of itself. If this guy made me laugh at any point during the film, it sure as hell wasn’t with him. When the guy whose eyes we’re supposed to be seeing the world through is someone who most people would cross rivers to avoid, the term “unreliable narrator” takes on a whole new meaning. He may be the biggest offender in terms of hideous characterization, but that’s not to say that he’s alone in that. Reese has all of no backbone throughout the film, until he spontaneously grows one right at the end, Cassidy is a perfect match for Ryan in how vapid they both are, and Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown… seriously, found footage movies, a little effort with the names would be nice), a girl who is also involved with the production, may come across as the relatively nice one of the group but then that’s hampered by rampant character inconsistencies. The fact that all of these people are dumber than a second coat of paint just makes it worse; even considering they’re being stalked by a ghost in the form of a hangman, Occam’s razor is frequently abused throughout in the conclusions these people come to and the actions they take. Anyone who is annoyed the age-old cliché of the group splitting up for one reason or another will repeatedly feel the urge to walk out before too long.

As a whole, everything about the script for this thing, beyond just the bad characterization, feels like this was a shelved screenplay that had been collecting dust for a few decades but resurfaced for this film. It’s a weird time capsule of writing trends that the world has largely (and rightfully) moved away from, as if the filmmakers had lived in a fallout shelter all their lives with only schlocky B-movies and slasher films to keep them entertained. From the aforementioned characters that are literally too dumb to live and fit into stock archetypes like the jocks, cheerleaders and geeks, a plot that is both minimal and yet crammed full of developments that have been used to death so many times before (it starts out with a moment of sheer stupidity and keeps trucking along that road), right down to losing phone signals for no reason; I’d call this a Frankenstein comprised of overused genre conventions, except Frankenstein himself was a good person and had layers to him so I don’t want to associate him with this garbage. In fact, given all this combined with Ryan constantly going on about Reese can’t act (on stage, at least), it’s as if it wanted to reach self-awareness at points. It could have worked, given how Reese’s method involves pulling as many “I’m acting as hard as I can!” faces as he can in his scenes, but that’s probably wishful thinking on my part since this is nowhere near clever enough for that to be true. And even if that was the case, Friedberg and Seltzer have long since proved that just because it’s a parody/satire doesn’t automatically mean that it’s good. Honestly, the only part about this film that I could possible consider ‘good’ is a scene near the end where we’re presented with what the film should have been about the whole time with Charlie forcing people to act out the play for him, coupled with a rare moment of moral thinking and a couple of genuinely creepy moments. Of course, even that is hindered by the fact that it leads into a twist ending that makes all of no sense because of how badly it ignores previous character actions, as well as the fact that it only started getting good just before it ended, and then what it did end on ruined whatever was left over.

Since this is a found footage film, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the camerawork here. With how prevalent the genre is nowadays, filmmakers need to pretty much reinvent the wheel in order to keep things interesting anymore; probably the last big advancement that was made in the genre was with 2012’s Chronicle, where the fact that everything was being filmed was given emotional weight and added to the POV character’s development. Here, I again will be fair to the production and admit that the idea of using iPhones as the in-universe cameras was a good move. Not only does it add credibility to the story, as it is far more likely that people will have their camera-ready phones on hand in such a situation as opposed to a bulky camcorder, it also provides a convenient excuse for the character to keep using them as they also double as flashlights and makes it easier to provide more than one POV for the story.. That said, this is yet another potentially good idea that is ruined by the execution. For starters, all the little issues concerning this idea like battery problems, the legendarily poor iPhone build quality that no-one in films seems capable of admitting about and the still-moronic idea of footage producing static in today’s day and age eat away at the plausibility of the idea before too long. The idea of multiple POVs ends up shooting itself in the foot as well, or rather just shooting its foot with the camera since a handful of shots in the film are just them pointing the cameras at the ground while they run. During the film, we get a couple of instances where we switch from Reese’s POV back to Ryan’s when he separates from the group for one reason or another, and while I would get annoyed about this breaking the “what we don’t see is scarier” rule, that would be implying that anything actually happens both times we see this. In the first one, all we get is a supposedly scary theatre mask being shoved in front of the camera at one point, and while something does technically happen the second time around, it’s music video horror to the extreme like the rest of the film and doesn’t provide us anything useful like actually seeing Ryan get killed. There’s the fact that they still use a standard camcorder in the film as well, and points for considering things like extra batteries for it, which kind of defeats the purpose of including the iPhones in the first place.

All in all, this is a horror throwback in the worst way possible, ignoring any progress the genre as a whole has made in terms of writing and characterization in favour of providing audiences with thoroughly unlikeable characters, a plot that is a bare bones TVTropes checklist of conventions and camerawork that is right up there (or down there, depending on your viewpoint) with some of the more misguided of the found footage subgenre, all cobbled together into a dark red package of music video horror featuring a seriously lame antagonist to match our ‘mains’. It’s a head-on collision between horror’s worst trends of the past and the present, and one that will likely make you shout “What the fuck was that?!” as soon as the credits start rolling and stomp out of the cinema in a huff; I know this because that is precisely what I did at my screening of the film. I’d regret the decision if it weren’t for the fact that no-one else was taking the film seriously either. It’s worse than Aloha, as that film was merely boring whereas this got me fired up something proper. However, even though the notion of being forgettable should be a good thing for films like this, the fact that Hot Pursuit was ultimately a bigger waste of time for that very reason is why it ranks lower than this. Ignore this film entirely and go watch It Follows, you’ll thank me later.

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