“The Gallows” is a found footage film directed and written by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing and produced by Blumhouse Productions. With an estimated budget of only $100,000, “The Gallows” strikes some surprising high notes in production value, cinematography, and acting, but falls short in miscellaneous key details, plot points, and tone.
“The Gallows” starts with a video recording time stamped “10/28/1993” showing the opening performance of a high school play, aptly titled “The Gallows.” During the play, the male lead is sentenced to be hung and is placed in a noose on the gallows. As the scene continues, the gallows unexpectedly triggers, killing the actor in what is deemed to be a set malfunction – how the gallows becomes functional to start with is not explained. From here chaos ensues and a title card displays “PROPERTY OF THE BEATRICE POLICE DEPARTMENT [BEATRICE,NEBRASKA].”
With an estimated budget of only $100,000, “The Gallows” strikes some surprising high notes in production value, cinematography, and acting, but falls short in miscellaneous key details, plot points, and tone.
The next scene displays a higher quality video, in what appears to be a rehearsal of the same play taking place many years later. I applaud the filmmakers for using two different video qualities to capture the passage of time between the first and second segment of the film.
In this latter scene, we see the “new” male lead, Reese (actor Reese Mishler) and female lead, Pfeifer (actor Pfeifer Brown) rehearsing the play. While Pfeifer delivers her role flawlessly, Reese is struggling to memorize his lines and offers a mediocre performance at best. We also learn that the person holding the video camera is the play cinematographer, Ryan (actor Ryan Shoose). Soon thereafter, we’re also introduced to Ryan’s hot cheerleader girlfriend Cassidy (actor Cassidy Gifford).
Both Ryan and Reese are members of the football team, and it turns out that Reese’s only reason for joining the drama club is because of a crush he has on Pfeifer. We are not told why Ryan chose to join the drama club. While Reese is timid and sentimental, Ryan is the stereotypical high school jock, with a flair for the obnoxious and a penchant for tormenting other members of the drama club. Ryan’s demeanor suits the film, as an A-type personality is needed to effectively film most of the POV sequences while simultaneously engaging the rest of the cast.
I applaud the filmmakers for using two different video qualities to capture the passage of time between the first and second segment of the film. .
We learn that Reese is performing in the play to get closer to Pfeifer, but knows that if he actually gets on stage, the play will be a disaster. Ryan suggests that they break into the school the night before the play to destroy the set, which will cause the play to be postponed and avoid Reese’s imminent on-stage embarrassment without alienating Pfeifer. Our three protagonists, Ryan, Reese, and Cassidy, follow through with their plan and head for the school the evening before curtain call. From this point forward, strange things start to happen.
As far as filming mechanics are concerned, “The Gallows” does an admirable job making this film appear as actual found footage, with one notable exception – the recording of the camera low battery level messages to video. In one instance, the “Power Save” message is clearly a convenience added to explain why the camcorder light went off during a particular scene that needs to be dark to be effective, but I’m sure other techniques exist that can achieve the same result.
As a found footage film, the cinematography in “The Gallows” is near flawless. The POV camera scenes look authentic, right down to the askew camera angles that would be expected during scenes where the protagonists are crawling, running, or startled. The film goes so far as to include scenes where the camera points at the floor during dialog, which further added to the realism.
The “filming reason” can make or break a found footage film, and “The Gallows” does a descent job explaining why the camera is rolling. Ryan’s participation in the play requires him to film the play, rehearsals, and back stage activities. Ryan also indicates that he just got the camera, and is conviningly enjoying the novelty of playing with the camera and filming his horsing-around and pranking of the drama club members. During the three protagonists’ school break-in, there are many scenes where the camera light and night vision are employed as a light source, offering a plausible reason to keep the camera rolling during life threatening moments.
One great line that I seldom hear in a found footage film is spoken by Reese who says “shut the [camera] light” when he hears someone/something approaching and wants to hide. “The Gallows” includes a scene in pitch darkness, a progressive decision that adds further realism to the final product.
“The Gallows” includes a scene in pitch darkness, a progressive decision that adds further realism to the final product.
The actors deserve a great deal of credit, as the three main protagonists perform exceptionally well in their respective roles. The chemistry between Reese, Ryan, and Cassidy. and their reactions to the stress of their dilemma comes across as genuine and engaging.
As I state at the beginning of this review, “The Gallows” has an exceptional production value and does not look like a film that was produced for a reported $100,000. Despite the small budget, “The Gallows” also manages to pull off some pretty good jump scares. Adding to the tension, the film employs a muted wind-like audio effect that precedes each paranormal event. Although we’ve seen this approach before in Paranormal Activity (2007), the tactic works equally well in “The Gallows,” further ratcheting the anticipation.
While I enjoyed “The Gallows,” the tone and story are geared for a high school aged audience, which removing much of the futility and hopelessness of the protagonists’ plight.
While I enjoyed “The Gallows,” the tone and story are geared for a high school aged audience, removing much of the futility and hopelessness of the protagonists’ plight. The final scene of “The Gallows” was a huge disappointment, and was clearly inserted for no other reason than to elicit one final jump scare before the closing credits, an approach one would expect for a younger audience.