OK, it's official: Worst Movie of the Year. Sure, there are lots of months left on the 2015 calendar, but it's simply inconceivable that a studio will release a more derivative, witless, ineptly crafted or cynically conceived piece of cinematic manure than The Gallows between now and the night the big ball drops.
How to come up with 600 words about a movie so unspeakably bad? I guess we can start with the part about it being cynically conceived. Everything about this film is lazily dreadful, from its lame appropriation of the done-to-death found-footage gimmick to its reliance on cheap jump scares. And yet, as Warner Bros. knows all too well, The Gallows can't lose. Money, that is.
Never mind that twentysomething writer-directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing have never made a movie before. Or that the cast is made up of complete unknowns who are destined to remain that way. Or that there isn't a second of originality in the picture's 80 minutes. Or that 80 minutes have never felt more like three hours.
The bottom line is, crappy and imbecilic as it is, The Gallows is guaranteed to be immensely profitable. Which just encourages this sort of thing. That's the way things work in today's global marketplace. Churn out a pinheaded collection of horror clichés on a budget this minuscule (reportedly $100,000), open it on thousands of screens around the world, and you've made millions before word gets out that the thing's pure motion-picture poo. Why go to the trouble of putting out something good when you can make just as much with something artistically worthless?
I suppose I should share the splendor of Cluff and Lofing's vision: In 1993, we learn, a kid named Charlie died from a prop malfunction in the course of a high school play. The film offers no explanation of how a student could have been accidentally hanged in the manner shown, but we all know he was because we watch the grainy footage of the tragedy again and again.
Twenty years later, the school is inexplicably staging a production of the same play. Hey, what could go wrong? On the eve of the opening, a group of students gets the bright idea to break into the school at night and trash the set. Rehearsals aren't going well, and it's decided the show shouldn't go on, since one or two popular kids might embarrass themselves. "You're a terrible actor," one hunk informs another. No argument is offered.
Thespians played by Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Reese Mishler and Pfeifer Brown find themselves alone in an auditorium when — you guessed it — lights stop working, doors start locking, a shadowy figure holding a noose appears and somehow all the ho-hum horror is captured on grainy cellphone footage. Though the cameras on their phones work, the students are unable to use them to call for help as they're picked off one by one. Oops — I mean, "Spoiler alert."
If you've never seen a scary movie, I suppose you might be mildly rattled by the blam of doors slamming themselves or the sight of a spooky figure lurking behind an unsuspecting teen. Anyone else is likely to find that the scariest thing about The Gallows is that a major studio would have anything to do with it.
Horror is experiencing something of a renaissance recently with the release of brilliant, innovative works such as The Babadook and It Follows. Viewers expecting The Gallows to continue the trend will be disappointed to find that Cluff and Lofing have, so to speak, left them hanging.