There is school spirit and then there is a school’s spirit. An horror story set in a US high school, The Gallows started life as a promotional trailer from a couple of newcomers.
Twenty years after an accident caused the death of the lead actor during a play, students at the same small town institution resurrect the failed stage production. It turns out to be a misguided attempt to honour the anniversary of the tragedy, because some things are better left alone. In 1993, Charlie Grimille died by the noose in a freak accident during Beatrice High’s production of the play “The Gallows.” Now it seems Charlie will finally have his curtain call … and his revenge. On the eve of the production’s revival, students Reese, Pfeifer, Cassidy and Ryan spend the evening trapped in the school’s auditorium, with no way to call for help. If Charlie has his way, it may be the last night they spend alive.
The Gallows stars Reese Mishler (from the web series Youthful Daze), Pfeifer Brown (upcoming My Many Sons), Ryan Shoos (As Night Comes) and Cassidy Gifford (God’s Not Dead). Written, directed and produced by Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff and shot entirely outside the Hollywood system, the movie found its way onto the big screen thanks to the filmmakers’ computer and their ingenuity. With a rough script, they shot a promo to see how it worked and then put it online to try to raise funds to shoot the rest of the film. There it was spotted by a producer, Dean Schnider, who shared it with Jason Blum, who produced Paranormal Activity and Insidious, along with more than 70 other titles. A big media consumer who is always going through blogs and video sites, Schinder says the clip he saw was strange, scary and creepy. I am pleased to be able to say so is the full length feature.
The performers were allowed a good deal of room to improvise. The filmmakers kept the script lean and found actors that could roll with it, who could use their improv skills to make the story come to life. I liked the good old-fashioned hands covering your eyes, jump in your seat scares that took hold as the plot developed. The set up was clever – home video of an incident in the play that resulted in a death still talked about at the school where it happened 20 years later. In other words, a sense of foreboding hangs over proceedings from the get go. At some time it was always going to be appropriate to put the past in the past, so it is plausible that the school decided to resurrect (if you pardon the pun) the play.
Perhaps less so is the desire to cast a former member of the football team, Reese Houser (Mishler), a jock, in the lead role because he is truly a terrible actor, but then that premise plays nicely into the plot. As much as the story is centred on him and the female lead Pfeifer Ross (Brown), on whom he has a crush, the tale unfolds through video footage being shot by another jock, who fills a behind the scenes role on the production. Ryan Shoos (Shoos) just thinks and acts like the whole school production is bogus. He doesn’t want to be a part of it and makes it clear Reese shouldn’t be either. Shoos’ character is about as far from likeable as you can get. He is simply an immature troublemaker, who has a video camera permanently with him switched to the “on” position.
The darkness where most of the story takes place is the filmmakers’ greatest weapon … teasing and tempting the audience to watch as one, by one, the key players are picked off. I much preferred The Gallows to the third installment of Insidious, which I saw in the same week. There may be nothing sophisticated about it, but it still has impact.
Rated M, it scores a 6½ out of 10.
Director: Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff
Cast: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos and Cassidy Gifford
Release date: 23 July 2015
Rated: MA 15+
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television