In 1993, a high-school production of a fictitious play known as "The Gallows" ends disastrously when young lead Charlie falls victim to a prop malfunction and is hanged for real in front of the audience. Twenty years later, the school forges ahead with another production of the ill-fated play (a struggle with the school board is referred to, but the "why" is glossed over very quickly).
So. Football star Reese (Reese Mishler) isn't exactly cut out for acting, but he wangles the lead role anyway because he wants to be close to his unrequited crush (and leading lady) Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Fellow jock Ryan (Ryan Shoos) can't stand the idea, and the discovery of a conveniently unlocked door inspires him to convince the hapless Reese to accompany him on a "stealth" mission to destroy the set overnight (ostensibly to save Reese's reputation). Tagalong cheerleader Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) just HAS to get involved, but much to Reese's chagrin, Pfeifer, too, finds herself behind mysteriously locked doors with the rest of them as the covert op goes horribly wrong. And of course, it's all captured on camera for our entertainment.
THE GALLOWS made a major bid for my sympathy from the beginning--and succeeded. Ryan is everyone's worst nightmare of a jock bully, and his unbridled contempt for theatre and everyone INVOLVED in theatre put me (and would put, I believe, anyone with a dedicated theatrical background) in the perfect frame of mind to root for his destruction. Okay, the capture of all the footage from various sources begs certain questions as to just how it was all collected and assembled as police evidence (as we're told at the beginning), but writers/directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing know their BLAIR WITCH and prove adept at moving the unquestionably supernatural goings-on along and know better than to saturate the film with jump scares, the result being that those we DO get work quite nicely. Meanwhile, the cast is more than convincing (even if "sympathetic" isn't the word I'm going for here).
There was a point where I considered invoking the Joe-Bob Briggs maxim that there's "way too much plot getting in the way of the story," but at the end of the brisk and painless 80 minutes, I tipped my hat and happily acknowledged that the film had successfully manipulated me by telling me exactly what I wanted to happen and giving me something "extra" if not "else."
Let's not forget that this was preceded by a trailer for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION, which plays the desperation card of 3-D for a film supposedly taking place on a series of home video monitors. THE GALLOWS may not be the cure for those who are incurably sick and tired of the "found footage" movement, but it confidently takes advantage of what makes the best examples work.
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