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Times of India
Four teenagers find themselves trapped in their high school at night. Three of the four had attempted to vandalize the sets of their school play called 'The Gallows'. A mysterious being - either real or supernatural - tries to prevent them from escaping alive.
The found footage horror sub-genre came into its own back when we saw The Blair Witch Project. There has been a clutch of films since then that serve up cinematic variations of found footage fare. Some work, some don't. The Gallows lies somewhere in between.
It starts off with a perfectly good premise, with a minimum of jump scares and a location (trapped in a nightmarish high school at night) that sets the scene for an eventful time, to say the least. Ryan (Shoos) is the archetypical school bully-cum-jock who was seemingly born with a camera strapped to his hand and a gift for verbal diarrhea. Neither his girlfriend, cheerleader Cassidy (Gifford) nor his best buddy Reese (Mishler) seems to mind Ryan's motor-mouth though.
An accident during a staging of the play in 1993 resulted in the death of Charlie (Cross), a student at that time. His then-girlfriend was devastated and the blame was placed on some students rather than a mechanical malfunction. Many years later in 2013, Charlie's ghost it seems (Or perhaps a flesh-and-blood murderer?) seeks revenge.
There are a few unexplained elements. Given that the camera work is all point-of-view - shot by the students - there are scenes where it appears that some other person is holding the camera. Also, why would the grudge vendetta be passed on to poor Reese? And why doesn't Ryan keep his mouth shut for a few moments at least, thereby allowing his admittedly more intelligent buddies and girlfriend to get a word in edgeways, even as they are running for their lives? Furthermore, since when are spirits captured on ordinary handheld cameras? That said however, the sound mixing as well as the use of light and shadow in deliberately claustrophobic conditions is effective and serves up a decent amount of scares.
One of Cluff’s favorite scenes—coincidentally shot on a Friday the 13th, on the thirteenth day of principal photography—also maintained an air of realism for most of those involved. “No kidding, it was the thirteenth day, on a Friday the 13th, and we were hanging someone.” Cluff and Lofing had discussed at length how to make the sequence as legitimate as possible in order to get the best “audience” reaction. “We brought in a bunch of extras to be our theater audience, watching the original version of the play in 1993, and we rehearsed it earlier that day,” Cluff goes on to say.
Jason Blum (“Ouija,” the “Paranormal Activity” “Insidious” and “Sinister” franchises), Entertainment 360’s Guymon Casady (TV’s “Game of Thrones,” “Steve Jobs”), Dean Schnider (upcoming “Shovel Buddies,” “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale”), and Benjamin Forkner (“The Killing Room”), and Lofing and Cluff produced the film. Dave Neustadter, Walter Hamada and Couper Samuelson served as executive producers.
To keep things feeling even more genuine for the cast, the filmmakers used the lead actors’ first names as character names. Thus, Reese Mishler plays Reese Houser, Pfeifer Brown plays Pfeifer Ross, Cassidy Gifford plays Cassidy Spilker and, retaining both his first and last names, Ryan Shoos plays Ryan Shoos. Schnider offers, “The fact that Chris and Travis decided to use the actors’ names as their character names was a very smart, simple idea that spoke to how they approached the entire movie, which is grounded and as raw and authentic as possible.”The performers were also allowed a good deal of room to improvise. “We kept the script really lean, and found actors that could roll with it,” Lofing says. “Our cast had great improv skills and really made things come to life.”
Because the character of Ryan also serves in large part as the film’s storyteller-cum-cameraman, the directors knew that the actor cast in the role would have to at least appear to be a skilled amateur videographer as well. Lofing explains, “We were looking for someone who could operate a camera, but who was also an energetic person who audiences would connect with. Like that slightly obnoxious friend who’s in your face, but he’s funny and you love him. Plus in the film he’s a jock, so in typical high school fashion, he’s popular. Ryan came in and just did a great job off the bat. Travis and I immediately knew he was the guy.”
The filmmakers employed a variety of cameras at various grades, including a Canon C300, the Panasonic Lumix GH2, RED and Sony. “I think we used just about every camera in the book,” Cluff jokes.
The very popular viral "Charlie Charlie" challenge was created especially for this film.
PLOT SUMMARY In 1993, a student of Beatrice High School named Charlie Grimille is killed in a horrific accident during the school play, called The Gallows. Twenty years later, students at the school resurrect the failed show in a misguided attempt to honor the 20th anniversary of the tragedy - but a few of the students break in at night to stop the production and soon discover that some things are better left alone for good. When Reese, Ryan and Cassidy are busy vandalizing the stage, they hear a loud sound from somewhere in the wings of the stage. They all head to the back and are surprised to find Pfeifer at the back. When they askhe what she is doing there, she tells them that she saw Ryan's car at the school and followed them there. As they are all now trapped, they must try and find away out before the hangman gets to them. The four while trying to find an escape, find a secret passage in the school with a television on that shows them how Charlie had died. The TV goes off and there is no cassette inside the VCR. Reese then finds an old photo showing how his dad was part of the cast but had backed out. Charlie then took his place and was killed in the hanging accident. At this time, the entity becomes more aggressive. Cassidy gets grabbed by the throat and is almost choked. Later, Ryan tries to taunt Charlie and is flung off a ladder, breaking his foot in the process. He is then killed by the entity and hung from the rafters. Cassidy is then eliminated as she sits in a corridor, waiting for Reese and Pfeifer. This is depicted in the film's poster. She is also hung in the rafters. Reese and Pfeifer are the only ones left. They act out the final scene in the play as a means of appeasement. This was after the door to the street opened but Reese went back to Pfeifer. As he mouths the lines from the play, he is hung by the apparition who then takes Pfeifer's hand and they take a stage bow. In the final scene, police enter Pfeifer's home. They find Pfeifer and her mother in an otherworldly state. The police are killed. One calls out to Charlie and the apparition appears in front of him, killing him too.