Many killers are ready for the big festival at Camp Redwood. Get ready to die!
Another murder at We Live As On has everybody paranoid, wondering who could be the killer around them.
The Gallows. 2015. Directed & Written by Travis Cluff/Chris Lofing.
Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Travis Cluff, Price T. Morgan, Theo Burkhardt, David Herrera, Gannon Del Fierro, Mackie Burt, and Adrian Salas. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 81 minutes.
Found footage is a sub-genre I do enjoy, honestly. That being said, there is still a fine line between what I enjoy and what I find crap. Some people say it’s all crap; that’s just dismissive, to me. I’m a fan of Cannibal Holocaust, unapologetically I love The Blair Witch Project, and then there’s newer stuff I’ve enjoyed like the V/H/S trilogy (I got a ton of online shit on an IMDB message board for my love of all three especially the third), Lovely Molly, and the terrifyingly unsettling Home Movie. There are other titles, I just don’t want to go on. You get the picture: if something is done right using found footage, I believe there’s no reason it can’t be enjoyable. Certain people seem to think the whole sub-genre is useless, but again, I say that’s nonsense. Found footage needs to be used effectively, otherwise it’s simply another gimmick. To say there’s no good found footage is ignorant.
The Gallows has a fun premise and I haven’t seen any found footage so far to use this setting. The majority of what I enjoyed about this movie is the atmosphere, most of which came from the location of the school’s auditorium/theatre. Otherwise, I found almost all the characters to be stiff; the high school dramatics felt real, I did think Reese Mishler and Cassidy Gifford were pretty decent throughout the movie, but overall the cast wasn’t very solid. With only a little to enjoy, The Gallows feels more like a wasted opportunity than an absolutely useless horror.
Starting with a recorded home video from 1993, we see a boy named Charlie Grimille accidentally hang to death during a high school play. Worst of all, it happens in front of an audience who watch on in absolute fear and horror.
The present day in The Gallows sees a new production of the play being put off. In one of the main roles, a jock named Reese Houser (Reese Mishler) tries his best to play his part opposite a girl he has a crush on named Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown). At the same time, Reese’s jock budy Ryan Shoos (that’s also his real name) films everything behind the scenes, supposedly helping but doing nothing except make a mockery of the production while others work hard and passionately to make it the best they can.
In an effort to supposedly save his buddy Reese the shame and failure of going onstage, Ryan suggests breaking into the school’s theatre at night and trashing the set. That way the production would be halted and Reese could ‘comfort’ Pfeifer. Misguided and foolish, Ryan, Reese, and Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) head into the school through a door said to never be locked, due to it being broken for years.
However, once they run into Pfeifer inside – who wonders why they’re even there in the first place, as they wonder the same about her – they discover the door is now locked, out of the blue. What follows is a horrifying night for the group of friends while they begin to figure out all about what happened 20 years ago to Charlie Grimille, and why he’s still lurking in the shadows of the school.
There’s certainly an innovative aspect to The Gallows in its premise. I think beyond that, there’s not much to distinguish it from other found footage horror movies. However, the whole concept is pretty fun. Theatres in general all have their own spooky nature; there’s something eerie about a theatre, all the history and the many people who’ve graced both the stage and the seats. Add in a school and it’s even creepier, as old schools all have their own history, many lives passing through its halls and corridors, as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the filmmakers used this premise enough to their advantage. As I said, most of The Gallows sticks to the bargain basement techniques of Found Footage 101. For instance, there’s an early and needless jump scare – that you can’t even fully call a proper jump scare – which involves Ryan (Shoos) just popping up in front of his camera in his bedroom; not even horror, simply him trying to pull a gag. Stupid, and also gets your heart pumping for no good reason. A jump scare is effective if there’s a reason, if there is purpose to it, however, if you simply make people jump without any substance whatsoever then it’s a piss off. For me, anyways. There’s always the “trick jump scare” in horror movies, but this is not one of those at all. It’s just a dumb addition; in fact, the scene in which it’s involved serves no purpose itself, so the whole 1 minute or so could’ve easily been trimmed out of the film.
Even though the movie uses so much of the shaky cam style, there’s still a decent atmosphere all the same. As someone who acted a great deal from a young age up until my early twenties, I spent a massive amount of time in theatres; specifically the big one at the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts back in my hometown, which partly resembles the auditorium of the school in this film. There’s something inherently spooky about the cold, sterile like hallways in the basement, the darkness of the theatre behind the stage, which immediately makes things unsettling.
If this were done in straight style, using some more steady handheld work even, I think it would’ve benefited greatly. Now I know, Blumhouse most likely wanted to try another lower budget found footage effort and try to make big bucks; the estimated budget is only$100K, which by industry standards in Hollywood is a minuscule production. But still, this is where the concept of the entire film becomes wasted. I’m confident had the filmmakers chosen to do this without found footage, a ton more emotion would’ve come through, the backstory might’ve benefitted – as well as the ghostly presence of Charlie – and the scares could’ve been ten times more effective.
Sadly, The Gallows comes out much like so many of the low budget indie efforts in the found footage genre – the ones unable to rise up to the weight of their premise.
One particular scene I did find effectively creepy, regardless of the found footage style (mostly because the phone camera being stationary for the shots), was when SPOILER ALERT Cassidy (Gifford) is in the red lighted hallway; behind her in the dark creeps the figure, hooded like the Hangman from the play. What I find most scary here is how there’s a moment where you don’t see anything, then all of a sudden – as if magic – the noose is around her neck. An unseen force drags her away through a door in the background of the shot, and it slams shut behind her. Very good and creepy scene, I found it wasn’t jumpy it was simply a nice shock to the system. A solid scare.
Furthermore, there’s a scene where Reese (Houser) and Pfeifer (Brown) are running from the ghostly presence of Charlie, clad in the suit of the Hangman, and they’re climbing up a ladder – we get an excellent, terrifying look at the Hangman mask/suit up-close. It’s again not a jump scare, so much as it’s one brief look that gives you enough to make you go WHOA. I’d almost love to see a slasher now set in medieval times, or before, with a hangman as the slasher – it’s just the first thing that popped in my mind when I saw the mask. Awesome little shot, not too long and not too short.
A part of the plot I did like was when everything returned in a circular fashion to the stage, as Reese and Pfeifer act out their scene together, and the camera turns on. The lights go up as well and the stage is set.
However, after that sequence I found things started to fall off. What I don’t like is how Blumhouse is basically setting things up right at the end for another movie. That’s essentially what happens, can anyone disagree? It’s like a mash of things happening right at the end. There’s simply too many reaching connections. So SPOILER ALERT AGAIN we’re meant to believe that Charlie’s girlfriend – the woman who continued to sit in the same seat and watch the practices, waiting for another performance of the play which killed her boyfriend 20 years ago – is also Pfeifer’s mom? I’m pretty slick most of the time, so I apologize if I’ve misunderstood. But the finale is pretty much tell us all that. I found it very mixed and matched, like puzzle pieces not intended to fit together which were simply mashed into a pile for the sake of trying to turn The Gallows – and Charlie – into an iconic style horror movie.
But this is another problem I have, I feel like Charlie is made out to be this slasher type killer. Instead he’s a ghost with a noose. That’s fine. At the same time, the movie is being marketed in a sense that Charlie’s supposed to be aimed toward becoming the next Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. I think not. First of all, the movie itself is nowhere near good enough to become anything like either John Carpenter’s Halloween or Friday the 13th. Second, Charlie just doesn’t come across in that way. There are most certainly a couple creepy scenes, there’s not enough viciousness for me to say Charlie is a bonafide slasher. Maybe had he really done a psychotic job on one of the high school kids, I could give in and say there are elements about the character which fit the bill. I can’t say that at all because most of what happens is ghostly creeping in the background, supernatural deaths, and nothing in the way of any blood. It’ all about the noose. Certainly no gore anywhere to be found. Is there really any way we can call Charlie a SLASHER if he did no slashing? Something to think about. I guess that’s partly the marketing’s problem. Still, I feel as if the filmmakers were also pushing towards that, particularly with the ending. There’s just no way I can get with that.
I can give The Gallows a 2 out of 5 star rating and feel okay with that. Some people say this is utterly trash. That’s fine, I respect anyone’s opinion as long as they’re not trying to force it on me as if I should feel the same way. However, I don’t think every last piece of this movie is bad. There are spots I thought were incredibly unsettling – one scene where Ryan slowly discovers there’s a body hanging up in between the walls in this tight crawlspace-like room I found to be VERY CREEPY. Ultimately though what makes The Gallows fall short is a reliance on horror cliches and tropes to the point of retreading too deeply through the footsteps of so many other found footage horror efforts, as well as the fact I found much of the acting (aside from Cassidy Gifford and Reese Mishler) extremely wooden. Not to mention I found the ending poor, beyond rushed, and it felt as they were forcing everything down our throats. While I did find parts of it scary, that finale did nothing for film overall and only served to make me actually say aloud once the lights came up: “Oh wow – that end was rough”.
Like I’d mentioned before, I think The Gallows would’ve made a better film if it went without found footage. Alas, Blumhouse – while doing exciting things on other ends – loves to go for the low budget shots in the dark like this after their huge success with bleeding dry the premise of Paranormal Activity. So it’s no wonder they went for a found footage style here instead of filming it regularly. Maybe more money would’ve been pumped in, but it still could’ve told the story more effectively, creeped people out in a much more visceral way than they accomplished here, and perhaps the performances might’ve also benefited from having a solid style. I can’t recommend this much, however, it isn’t as terrible as some critics and people online are making it out to be.
See it if you want to judge for yourself, and I urge you to do so – I’m no one to be listening to, really. Just don’t believe all the trashing, while at the same time you need to remember you won’t find anything more than a generic found footage horror. There are tons of better found footage movies out there to get you creeped out.
The Amityville Horror. 2005. Directed by Andrew Douglas. Screenplay by Scott Kosar; based on the earlier screenplay by Sandor Stern/the novel by Jay Anson.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloë Grace Moretz, Rachel Nichols, Philip Baker Hall, Isabel Conner, and Brendan Donaldson. Platinum Dunes. 18A. 90 minutes. Drama/Horror/Mystery.
3.5 out of 5 stars
I’m not someone who gets overly upset about remakes. Though I’m not necessarily always a fan of what comes out the other end of the Hollywood meat machine, there are benefits to remakes. I mean, some film fans act as if it’s a big deal somebody discovers an older movie because of its remake. Remakes have been going on since the 1950s, maybe even a little earlier, so get off the high horse first of all. Second of all, why do certain snobbish film fans expect other people to be researching the history of a movie? So what if somebody sees a movie and then realizes it’s a remake? A lot of times people will end up seeing the original and then saying “Wow that’s way better”. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say similar things, glad to have seen the original film.
Not to say The Amityville Horror remake is amazing. It’s not. I would say it’s better than just mediocre, but still not great. I think what I like about this one particularly is that Ryan Reynolds plays George Lutz pretty well, as well as the fact not everything looks like a commercial – such is the Platinum Dunes tradition of making horror look all glossy, with sexy people showing off their sexiness. There is a little of this, honestly, throughout the movie. Far less than any of the other Platinum Dunes remakes – think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, both equally abysmal and sexualized bits of horror blasphemy.
This is a decent remake, though, certainly not better than the original. Not for me, anyways. What I do like about this one is that they dive a bit further into the backstory about the Lutz house. Again as I’ve said before in my review of the original film, I don’t believe the supposed hogwash “true story” behind the whole Amityville ordeal. That being said, I still enjoy the fictionalized telling of the hoax on film. Good haunted house type of stuff, even some nastiness here and there to drive home that horror.
I won’t bore anyone with describing the plot. If you’ve not yet discovered the original, or haven’t otherwise read about the story, check it out online. Plenty of stuff out there. Aside from that, we’re going to go at it right away.
One thing I do enjoy here is the cinematography. There’s a nice atmosphere, which is my favourite thing in horror. If a director and cinematographer together can set the tone of a film off the bat, things pan out so much better from there on out, as long as the tone is upheld.
Peter Lyons Collister is the cinematographer for this film. Until I actually went and checked, I didn’t know that he was also cinematographer on Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers; I’m actually a big fan of that one, personally. He was also director of photography on John Singleton’s excellent film Higher Learning. What Collister does here is keep things darkened through almost every single frame of the film. Even when we’re outdoors in the light, or walking with a character through a hallway of the house where sun is shining through the windows, there’s a dim quality to everything I find keeps things eerie. Not to say it’s all drenched in darkness. There are so many scenes, though, almost every one, where Collister keeps things shadowy. Something of which I’m a huge fan. Gave the film that atmosphere I enjoy.
Something I enjoyed about this Amityville Horror is that even quicker and more immediately than the original, the plot of this film kicks in with intensity almost the minute they move into the house. The tension between George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy (Melissa George) Lutz goes up ten notches under the house’s influences. Otherwise, there is barely any real tension. Even the kids – George’s stepchildren – become more irritating to him than they ever were before. You can tell when they first get there, after a scene or two with him and the kids, there’s a tiny bit of awkwardness still left, as the kids do miss their father; obviously. But so quickly, the house exerts its grip on George, and it begins to affect everything and everyone around him.
Another thing is that I enjoyed the way the children were so affected by the house, as well. In the original they experienced quite a bit in their own right, but the majority was heaped all on George. It’s still mostly like that, however, we see the kids all get terrorized a for nice while. The youngest boy sees a ghastly image next to him in the bathroom mirror while he washes his hands in the middle of the night – a solid jump scare. Worst of all, little Chelsea Lutz (Chloë Grace Moretz) seems to be entranced by the invisible friend she calls Jodie – who is actually Jodie DeFeo (Isabel Conner), murdered by her older brother as he killed their entire family a year before the Lutz’s arrival in 1975. This goes to great lengths, as Chelsea and Jodie get closer and closer.
The downfall of The Amityville Horror remake, why it can’t surpass the original for me, is mostly because it gets that modern day Platinum Dunes treatment, as I mentioned before – the one suffered by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th remakes alike.
First of all, there’s the part with the babysitter. I mean – there was just no need to sexualize that character so much. It’s fine to have a wild babysitter, that would’ve been different than the first film, but why make her a young girl all dolled up wearing the tiniest top, low-cut jeans, showing off her ribs and her stomach? It’s just another obvious idiotic marketing film executive thinking “Hmmm how do we get more young men watching horror? Let’s add sex”. But then there’s the further idiotic idea that, because she’s an obviously sexual young woman, an even younger boy drooling all over her, and because she smokes pot in the bathroom, then OF COURSE SHE MUST BE TERRORIZED IN THE CLOSET! Sure, put her in the closet – why does it need to feel like she’s being set up to be punished, though? Make her sexy then make her pay? Dumb Platinum Dunes style crap.
I felt truly weird about the whole scene where she was laying on the bed with this kid talking to her. Such an awkward scene.
Then we can’t ignore Ryan Reynolds showing off his abs – seemingly always greased and glistening – which is just downright silly. It was like at certain times someone said “WHIP OFF THAT SHIRT, RYAN. SOMEBODY: GREASE HIM UP!” I mean, I get that sometimes people don’t have shirts on, but it’s like there’s such an intense need for Platinum Dunes remakes to try and focus on wet, slick bodies, as if that draws people somehow to the movie.
This is the sort of stuff which really tears me out of a film, regardless if it’s horror or not. Another reason for people to hate remakes, so it irks me when I see this kind of stuff. Does not help the genre whatsoever.
George Lutz: “There’s no bad houses there’s just bad people”
So, as I said before, I do like the backstory they put into the remake. I have no time for the supposedly “true story”, because it’s not true. Though I really enjoy the fictionalized telling of the story. Here, we get disturbing and weird stuff as George Lutz descends from a fairly regular, everyday man towards a pit of madness into which he gets sucked by the evil in that house. He looks tired all the time, he’s getting angrier by the minute, and his paranoia begins to pulse almost as noticeable as the blood in his veins, the beat in his heart. All due to the house and the demons living in the very foundation.
This is the best stuff. As George starts to see and hear so many things throughout the house, we’re treated to a lot of macabre and unsettling imagery. They’re not all jumpy NOISE TO SCARE YOU type shots either. A couple come up, no doubt, but they’re not relied on solely for Andrew Douglas to scare us. We get enough to be able to enjoy; I find when too many jump scares happen, I’m just desensitized and not scared any longer. With only a handful, this helps to creep me out. Most of all, it’s the weird story of the preacher, the things he did to the Indians and all that which freaks me out most. Great work on that part because it was intense and freaky.
In the end, I really enjoy Ryan Reynolds in this film as George Lutz. Not to say I put him or James Brolin over one or the other, but what I truly liked is how much of George going crazy is fit into the script for this remake. There is a lot more to him stalking around the house, digging around in the basement, in the walls, watching videos, waking up to the clock at 3:15 AM. So I think that’s something, plus the creepy as hell backstory of the house with the preacher and all that, which made me enjoy this almost as much as the original. Not quite as much, close though.
This is about a 3.5 out of 5 film. That whole bit with the babysitter, the sexualization – really takes things down a notch, and I wish Platinum Dunes would keep the needless stuff out of their remakes. It would help them if they want to appeal to true genre fans. We don’t need that sort of crap just thrown into scenes, especially if it makes no sense and serves no purpose whatsoever.
If you really want the best, go for the original. That being said, there are a lot of worse remakes than this one, and at least Andrew Douglas tried to craft a genuine atmosphere of suspense and fear instead of relying totally on shock horror or jump scares to get the response for which he was looking.