The Gallows (Blu-ray Review)

The Gallows thumbThere are a number of pitfalls that directors can stumble into when venturing to make a film in the found-footage horror sub-genre. Some of these include: using the filmmaking technique to excuse sloppy editing and cinematography, allowing the shaky action to cover for subpar acting or an amateur script, adding any kind of non-diegetic sound (particularly music stings), relying too heavily on quick-camera-pan jump scares instead of tension, and, perhaps the biggest, never giving a reason for the film to be comprised of “found footage” or for the characters to be filming their actions. The Gallows, newly released on Blu-ray, succeeds so spectacularly at heaving itself into all of these pits that I am surprised the film wasn’t found when James Cameron explored the Mariana Trench. As if the tired found-footage gimmick weren’t enough to steer clear of this release, it should also be known that one can expect to find cliché horror elements, a predictable story, and paper-thin, wholly detestable characters. Luckily, this Blu-ray release includes the original cut of the film, unsullied by the hands of Blumhouse and New Line Cinema, which, while still containing a number of the components of a bad film, is significantly more watchable than its theatrically released counterpart.

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The Gallows is set in a small Nebraska town where, twenty years prior to the main story, a terrible accident during a high school production of a play called “The Gallows” caused a young student named Charlie Grimille to be hanged… by a functioning gallows… in a high school play. With the healing of time and at the insistence of the school’s resident drama kid cliché, Pfeifer Ross, played by Pfeifer Brown, the school is on the precipice of returning “The Gallows” to the stage. There are four main characters that move the story forward. The first we are officially introduced to is the cameraman for the majority of the film, Ryan Shoos, played by Ryan Shoos (yep), an abhorrent, sexist, bully, football player cliché who is doing tech for the play as a requirement for his graduation. Second, there is Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy Spilker, played by Cassidy Gifford (real-life daughter of Kathy Lee and Frank Gifford), who is a blonde cheerleader cliché complete with narcissism and blind dedication to her loathsome boyfriend. Then, rounding us out are Reese Houser, played by Reese Mishler, who is a football-player-slash-co-lead-in-the-play-with-a-crush-on-the-drama-girl cliché and the previously mentioned super-serious-about-drama girl Pfeifer.

In order to give this film the discredit it deserves, here is the reason given to the audience to get these characters into the school’s auditorium at night: Thoroughly repellent Ryan, who films everything for no reason at all, after teasing Reese about his crush on Pfeifer, convinces him that in order to win her affection, they should sneak into the school at night, using a door that is shown to be unable to lock, for the purpose of wrecking the set, so when Pfeifer is distraught that her big passion project is ruined, Reese can comfort her and totally get some sympathy lovin’ (bro-five!). Not only does Reese neglect to immediately find this idea to be physically repulsive, he actually smiles and nods his head like “yeah, you know what? This might just work.” His only concern about the scheme is asked in the shrugging question “Do you have tools?” as if the immaculate genius of the plan would fall apart were Ryan unable to access the appropriate hardware. So Reese, Ryan, and, inexplicably, Cassidy go into the school at night to damage the set where they are happened upon by Pfeifer, who lives across the street and saw Reese’s car in the parking lot.

They all find themselves locked in and begin to be terrorized by the ghost of Charlie Grimille. The film plays out like an uninspired found-footage version of a slasher movie from that point on with the “characters” uncovering previously unknown and ultimately uninteresting details about the accident from twenty years before. This all builds up to a dumb twist ending and eventually the now-obligatory final-shot jump scare directly into the camera. By the end of the thankfully short 81-minute runtime, one cares so little about the people on the screen that it isn’t even fun to cheer for their demises (except for Ryan. He is insufferable).

If it isn’t apparent already, no person should have to be subjected to The Gallows. It doesn’t even do its audience the favor of being inept enough to slip into so-bad-it’s-good territory. While it still wouldn’t bring anything new, this film could have been immensely helped by just being a slasher flick without the found-footage gimmick, since the gimmick keeps the POV stuck with the horrid characters we want to see get killed. Charlie Grimille, despite having a cool executioner’s hood, doesn’t have the sympathetic backstory of Freddy or Jason and he doesn’t have the psychopathy of Michael Myers or Leatherface. He is just a kid who died for no real reason and he kills people for no real reason (or, I guess they like said his name, which is taboo. Or they disrespected the play that no high school would ever agree to perform again after some kid died on stage). Who cares?

There are a couple of bright spots that shine through in this film. First, the actors look scared when they are supposed to. And, the sound design is pretty good, with some effective uses of surround sound and a recognizable rope-tightening sound when Charlie is hunting his victims. That’s it. Definitely not enough to convince someone to see a movie. Don’t watch The Gallows. Don’t encourage these cheap, unoriginal, boring horror cash-in films produced by Jason Blum. Horror audiences deserve better than this.

(Creepy Music) JUMP SCARE!! LOL, Money please!

[Review Epilogue: Problematic]
In one of the special features on this Blu-ray, the people behind the production of the film — specifically the two directors — are giddy to the point of high-fiving each other over the idea that a killer who uses a noose is so new and groundbreaking for the horror genre. It is apparent that none of them have any black friends; otherwise the conversation about how innovative and cool a hooded figure with a noose could be may have gone a bit differently. Should this film be turned into a franchise, as would likely be the goal with something that made $38.2 Million off of a $100,000 budget, it is my sincere hope that Charlie suddenly decides to just start crushing throats with his hands.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: Found-footage films like The Gallows tend to be intentionally grainier and less detailed than other films shot on similar cameras. For what it is worth, though the film is lit mostly by what is supposed to be a light on the end of a small handheld camera, it is easy to make out what is going on.

Depth: The film has a purposefully narrow depth of field, to keep the action close to the source camera.

Black Levels: The movie is very dark. Throughout a large portion, the house/hall lights don’t turn on so we are left with the light provided by the camera or night-shot footage from a cellphone. It is necessary that the black levels be spot on for this to be executed successfully and that is assuredly the case here.

Color Reproduction: Colors are good. The first ten minutes or so that is shot during the day establishes that color is reproduced accurately. The majority of the film is in the dark, so it is hard to really tell.

Flesh Tones: Flesh looks like flesh.

Noise/Artifacts: Only the intentional kind; used to hide edits, or to be super spooky.

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Audio Format(s): Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Spanish Dolby 5.1, French  Dolby 5.1.

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: Good use of dynamic sound to create a scary atmosphere in dark rooms.

Low Frequency Extension: The sparing use of low frequency sounds is welcome. When the subwoofer is booming, Charlie is around; and that works.

Surround Sound Presentation: Similar to the LFE, surround sound isn’t used all the time. However, when it is used, it does a good job of adding to the film.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is clear and frequent. The echoing nature of the school theatre can play with the sound a bit, but really since no people should be subjecting themselves to this travesty of a film, it won’t be an issue.

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Includes a DVD and Ultraviolet Digital copy of the film.

  • The Gallows: The Original Version (1:20:34) – This is the cut of the film that was shown off to the producers in order to get them to fund the theatrical version. This isn’t just a recut of the theatrical film. This is the whole film with a different actor playing Cassidy, some different scenes, less camera-twitchy film grain, and a way better ending. This version of the film is watchable and that is a huge step up from the main feature on this Blu-ray.
  • Gag Reel (7:40) – Whoever found the abandoned camera and edited all the scenes together must have been so surprised when they discovered footage of the actors slipping on stairs, forgetting lines, and goofing around.
  • Deleted Scenes – About a dozen or so deleted scenes. The most interesting of them are the multiple alternate endings. None of the endings surpasses the one from “The Original Version,” but it is still interesting to see the other ways in which this film could have failed to be entertaining.
  • The Gallows: Surviving the Noose (13:20) – An annoying featurette where the directors congratulate themselves on filming a terrible movie.
  • Charlie: Every School Has Its Spirit (9:44) – The production team talks about how they came up with the killer, Charlie. This includes the bit where they prance around with glee at the invention of a noose-wielding hangman.
  • Trailers for the two different versions of the film.

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The Gallows uses a tired concept to deliver unearned scares to a bored audience. The disdain the viewer shows for the cliché characters will be the only real emotion evoked by this dreck. Despite including a far better version of the same film, this Blu-ray release still deserves no attention and would do more service being found in a recycling bin. Let’s all just pretend this cinematic abomination never happened and demand better horror films.

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I like to be challenged to think about things, so I studied Philosophy in college. Now I am paying for it.

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