Thursday, 28 January 2016

the gallows

the gallows opens with vhs footage of an accident that occurred during a high school play in which a boy was killed in what was supposed to be a fake hanging. ten years later the school has decided to revive the play but a couple of the cast members and their friends find that someone or something does not want them to do it.

after we are introduced to the main players, including the obligatory character who insists on filming everything, the film takes us into the school theatre at night by way of a rather contrived plot point. once the kids are in there they soon discover that they have been trapped inside and that there may be something in there with them. what follows is a frantic cacophony of screeching teens, jump scares and cameras pointing at the floor while the aforementioned teens run aimlessly around the school. it's nothing we haven't seen before, and at times it feels like it would have worked better as an episode in an anthology film because there isn't quite enough plot for an eighty minute feature, and yet in the end it kind of works.

one of the most important factors of found footage films is the location, and sometimes filmmakers become too caught up in that. the gallows veers dangerously close to this sometimes with endless shots of the empty theatre and dark hallways, but the fact is that the empty theatre is a great location. the filmmakers set up the geography of the place really effectively, and they manage to make the school feel labyrinthine and claustrophobic at the same time. there's also a real sense of the energy of a theatre - the fact that it's a space where tragedies have been played out over and over again.  ultimately that's exactly what the film is about - the inescapable repetition of tragedy in art. in a way it makes perfect sense that this feels like a film we've seen before, because that's kind of the point and there's something about the inevitability of it all that really feeds into the story.

however, what really made the gallows work for me is that the jump scares are done really well. there are two ways to scare an audience - with suspense or with shock. the best horror films, of course, use both, but here the filmmakers focus purely on the latter. while i'm more a fan of fear through suspense and atmosphere, i do appreciate a really well-constructed jump scare and this film has more than a few of them. that's hard to pull off, especially in a found footage film when you're trying not to make the scenes seem too constructed.

i know this is a film that has had mixed reviews, and i can kind of see why. there are moments that exist only to drive the plot forward including some ridiculous decisions on the part of the characters that i can see could be distracting for the more cynical viewer. but if you ignore that and just go along with it, you'll be in for quite a ride.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.


  1. Paz, you pretty much nailed this one. I agree with all your observations. I think I'm just less forgiving than you on this movie. It sounds like the good stuff just slightly outweighs the bad for you, and for me it's the opposite. I so wanted to love this film--the trailer was great, the set-up and location were well thought out (as you note), and it seemed to have such potential. Maybe I could more easily forgive the faults you mention if I liked the characters, but I just didn't give a fuck about them and I think that's what lost me on this one. Still was worth a watch--just not a classic.

    1. i think the big problem is that the guy with the camera and his girlfriend are so annoying as characters that it makes it really hard to get into the story. they kind of have to be like that for the story to work, which i think is why i gave it a pass, but yeah, i they don't make it easy to give a shit about them. i initially felt the same as you, but around the halfway point i started to really enjoy it. thanks for the comment!