The Gallows (2015): A found footage horror film by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing

Where Paranormal Activities Comes to the Stage

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Anirban Lahiri

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

The Gallows, Movie Poster, Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing
The Gallows (2015) - By Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing
Our Rating: 3.0
IMDb Ratings: 4.5
Genre: Horror | Thriller
CastReese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 81 min
Color: Color

Summary: Twenty years after an accident during a small town high school play results in death, students at the school resurrect the failed stage production in a misguided attempt to honor the anniversary of the tragedy - but ultimately find out that some things are better left alone.

Since The Blair Witch Project (1999), nay since Cannibal Holocaust (1980), found-footage films have been doing rounds in the indie circuits. Most of these films are worse than Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). In recent years, we have seen films such as Paranormal Activities 1-4, Chronicle, Project X and The Curse. Bollywood’s own Dibakar Banerjee tried his hands, partially, in this genre too, in Love, Sex and Dhoka (2010). This is a favourite genre for accent filmmakers who want to make films outside the accepted ways of filmmaking, on their own money, not being answerable to anyone.

But, the initial thrill is lost with the overuse of same tropes. The idea of found footage film is borrowed from other arts. Novels based on memoirs and letters have been doing rounds for the last two hundred years. Installation art is conceptualized on already existing forms. A mock Cinema Verité style has added flavour to such films for decades.

A Still from The Gallows, Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos
A Still from The Gallows
The Gallows, like most of such films, have a minimal story, and a convenient plot structure within four walls of a building. A play, titled The Gallows, is being enacted at the Beatrice high School. At the end of the play, a trap door falls open under the feet of the actor in the noose. He dies hanging before the full audience including his parents.

This was in 1993. The tragic death was recorded in the video camera of Charlie Grimille, the victim. The modern story opens in the next generation, two decades later. Rees Houser is to play the same character. He is in the play because of a crush for his fellow actor Pfeifer Brown. His classmate Ryan plays with a camcorder catching all the moments in and out of stage. He wants to mess up the show, and persuades Rees in doing so. They sneak in at the night along with Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy. They destroy the stage, and find out Pfeifer in the anteroom. Then spooky things starts happening.

A Still from The Gallows, Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos
A Still from The Gallows
Everything is recorded from the point-of-view of the camera. There is another camera, an ethereal one. Nobody knows who controls that. That shows the spectators, us, things which Ryan’s camera cannot catch.

The Gallows seems to be interesting in the beginning. Slowly, the usual tropes of unseen shadows, destruction reverting back to normalcy, unrealistic cut-aways and sneaky camera movements with cuts to an unknown camera set the usual tone of an overused style.

It is interesting that Hollywood, just like Bollywood and Hong Kong film industry, is in a repetition spree, this summer. Character, plots, stories, situations, lighting, techniques, logic – everything – is repeated. The world has completed a full turn to have stood in a position economically and politically similar to the beginning of the 20th Century. There is almost no dream left. Everyone wants to make films and be famous. Indie and accent films are being appropriated by the big house. Even Shyamalan has made a found footage film, to be released late this year.

A Still from The Gallows, Hangman, Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos
A Still from The Gallows
The Gallows has been taken up by New Line Cinema, and distributed by Warner Bros. It is just another film from the fraternity, to inspire some hope for the newbie filmmakers. Ambitious and aware film-school pass-outs can indeed do better.

The flow of the film is like a docudrama just like other found-footage films, camera point-of-view is interesting initially, sound design is conventional and professional at times, editing pattern and pace are conventional, and acting is non-camera-conscious.

VerdictOne-time Watch. Good for film school students for their first dialogue exercise.

About Author - 

Anirban is a Cinematographer and film teacher. After a marathon teaching of filmmaking for five years in Digital Academy, Mumbai, he is busy writing his own film now. He was with DearCinema during its first phase. Steeped in cultural theory, observation and history, he sees all his work as part of a continuum – critique. Anirban consciously plays the role of a critic while shooting films, teaching, writing stories, and of course while critiquing. His favourite filmmakers are Sergei Eisenstein, Orson Welles, Jean-Luc Godard, Ritwik Ghatak, Satyaji Ray, Luis Buñuel, Andrei Tarkovsky, Abbas Kiarostami and Nagisa Oshima, to name a few.

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