As with most genres of film, horror requires a certain amount of suspending disbelief. When it works, it allows for filmmakers to create something fresh for audiences. But for this idea to work, filmmakers have to avoid treating their audience with a complete lack of regard for reality. There are points where the suspension of disbelief becomes untenable to the human mind, and good filmmakers will respect those boundaries.
This is something that first-time writers/directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing clearly don’t understand. Or care about, for that matter. Outside of an opening that, while defying logic, is frightening enough to resonate, The Gallows is filled with elements that seem to have more of an interest in flipping the bird with both hands to audience members than telling a story that frightens its audience.
That opening, to be fair, is pretty disturbing. Set in 1993 on what appears to be an old VHS tape, we see a believably unremarkable high school production of The Gallows, which appears to be set in colonial American times. The scene ends after a platform on stage gives way under an actor with a noose around his neck. Now, it seems ridiculous to imagine any production, even an amateur production like this, would actually put a noose around an actor’s neck without proper safety rigging, but the VHS quality makes it easier to buy it. “It’s from an older time where they didn’t know better,” you might tell yourself.
From there, though, the film loses any shred of credibility. Moving forward to 2013 (worth noting: this was originally shot in 2012, so this one’s been sitting on a shelf for a while), where the same high school is preparing for a revival of the play in honor of the 20th anniversary of this fatal incident. Again: the same high school is preparing a revival of the play in honor of the 20th anniversary of this fatal incident. It’s also at this point that we meet the main cast members of this film: the football team captain who’s fumbling through the role of the martyr in the film, the theater geek playing his romantic counterpart, a blonde cheerleader whose purpose is to apparently add to the body count, and the insufferable jackass filming most of this found footage work. For the first 45 minutes or so of the film (and keep in mind, this film is under 90 minutes in length), we get to see the guy filming one of the most clichéd high school settings I remember seeing in recent memory. You know the type: where the people involved with sports are cool, and the people in theater are obviously geeks and losers.
Once the film actually tries to get into the horror portion of the run time, it’s too late. No one cares about any of the leads, except to see what terrible fate awaits them. And even then, it’s not something to take seriously. A twist at the end initially seems creepy, until logic – again, remember that suspension of disbelief – prevails with the realization that there’s absolutely no way for the twist to make sense. How other screenings will react, I can’t say, but the audience I saw this with had one default reaction: laugh at everything. As far as unintentional comedies go, this would qualify as one. But as a horror film, this film is beyond lacking. The Gallows would have been better off sitting on the shelf permanently.