It’s High School drama season, and sports jock Reese (Reese Mishler) is stumbling badly through his lines opposite mini-diva Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown) as they rehearse “The Gallows,” a play that became infamous 20 years ago when the stand-in actor for the role Reese is now playing was accidentally hung when the prop gallows malfunctioned.
Filming Reese’s humiliation – and all the backstage hijinks – is Ryan (Ryan Shoos), who interviews people watching the rehearsals and learns that there are stories of funny noises, slamming doors and lights turning off; the legend says that that poor kid actor who died, Charlie, is still haunting the theater.
Ryan dismisses all that guff though, and when Reese lets it slip that he only did this play because he has a crush on Pfeifer, Ryan suggests they come back later to trash the stage: no play, no acting humiliation, and a distraught Pfeifer will surely fall into Reese’s manly arms – right?
Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) insists on coming along too, and so that night they return through the permanently-broken back door and start knocking over fake plants, breaking props and dismantling the gallows with a drill. But then there’s a strange noise – Charlie? No.
A suspicious Pfeifer is there too (she saw Reese’s car outside), but then they do see something scary. Very scary indeed. The gallows is reassembled, the noose is back in place, and the back door is locked tight..…
For a film that was done on a tiny, independent budget as a kind of local project and then picked up for distribution later, The Gallows certainly delivers it’s fair number of old school creaking door shocks and heart-stopping moments, and often brings to mind The Blair Witch Project – but at just over 80 mins, it barely stops for breath.
Based around the “found footage” idea – in this case Ryan’s video camera and the cell phone cameras of a couple of the teens – this manages to give more life to an exhausted technique as it allows for some video flashbacks and (more importantly) means that, for nearly the entire film, the only light is coming from these devices.
That of course means lots of dark corners, lots of shadows and lots of places for something (or someone to hide), though they don’t go for the repetitive “did you see that?” scare tactic here; instead the sense of dread is really ratcheted up until, inevitably, they started being picked off as they run through (and get separated from each other) in what seems, certainly in the dark, the creepiest inner workings, basement, chaotic offices and back corridors of a place Freddy Krueger would be happy to hang out in.
There are quibbles of course: why on earth would a school ever again mount a play with such horrific associations? And the end sequence is perhaps too cheesy and a little off-tone for what’s gone before, but nevertheless it all holds together well, there are a couple of thoughtful reveals, the four actors all seem more than mere chums, and it certainly had me watching with my hands ready to cover my eyes….
Review by JAMES BARTLETT
Dir. Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing
Dur. 81 mins
Cast: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford
Now showing at Odyssey Cinemas: Book online here.