As a fan of the genre, I usually end up watching a lot of bad horror movies. It’s inevitable really; if I want to call myself a fan of horror, I’ve got to wade through all of the crap, just hoping to find that bright and shining diamond in the rough. I didn’t have much interest in the new found-footage horror flick The Gallows, but I was hoping that it would end up surprising me. Unfortunately, not only is this one of the worst found-footage films that I’ve seen in quite some time, it might just be one of the worst horror films of the decade thus far. Despite being barely 80 minutes long, it’s a long, excruciating experience with hardly any redeeming qualities to save it from total destruction.

At a high school in 1993, a group of students put on a play entitled “The Gallows”. The play ended with one of the students, Charlie Grimille, accidentally being killed as his character is executed by hanging. Twenty years later, they’ve decided to resurrect the play and try to put it on without a hitch. Taking the role that Charlie played is Reese (Reese Mishler), who happens to have developed a crush on Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown), the female lead in the play. Reese isn’t a great actor, so his friends Ryan (Ryan Shoos) and Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) convince him to sneak into the school after hours in an attempt to destroy the set and cancel the play. But when they sneak into the school, they soon discover that they’re not alone and a vengeful spirit is hell-bent on making sure they don’t come out alive.

First of all, the basic plot of this movie is so inept that it wouldn’t be surprising to discover that the writers developed the concept on the first day of shooting. A child is brutally killed in front of hundreds of students and parents, but 20 years later they’re going to put on a recreation of the exact same play? It’s such a ludicrous idea to think that this would actually get approved in today’s day and age. There is a throwaway line in the film explaining how it was difficult to get the play into production, but it’s just not enough. It would maybe make sense if the accident had occurred in a play that is a staple of most high school theater troupes, like “Peter Pan” or “Les Miserables”, but “The Gallows” is just some weird play that nobody’s ever heard of. Is this just sloppy writing or am I actually supposed to believe that this is a classic play in the universe of the film? I’d be able to forgive this lazy setup if the rest of the film had delivered something worthwhile, but The Gallows only gets worse from here.

What’s most upsetting about the film is the characters. Ryan is the character holding the camera for the majority of the film’s runtime and he’s an awful human being. The first act of the film comprises of him making fun of the stereotypically nerdy kids and even going so far as to physically assault them by throwing a football at an unsuspecting kid’s head. It’s played for laughs, but it’s not funny watching him make fun of kids for having an interest that isn’t football. It also feels very old-fashioned; anti-bullying has become such a strong trend, in most high school’s today it’s actually cool to not bully people. Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy is almost as bad, relishing at the opportunity to destroy a set that students have put a lot of work into. Writers/directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, clearly want us to identify and sympathize with these characters when things begin to go horribly wrong, but it’s hard to do that when they’re so despicable. The characters of Reese and Pfeifer are fine, but it doesn’t make sense that Pfeifer is continuously made fun of by the other characters in the film. Pfeifer is absolutely beautiful and in most schools, she would be the girl that everyone would want to be friends with; but because she has an interesting in drama, Cluff and Lofing thought that she deserved to be ridiculed throughout the film.

Of course this all could have been forgiven had the film been able to deliver some quality scares, but it’s just as big of a failure in that department. The filmmakers seem to think that having their characters rely on flashlights and night vision is enough to constitute atmosphere, but there’s hardly an ounce of dread to be found here. There’s an attempt at delivering some frightening imagery, but it’s almost entirely unsuccessful, save for one sequence in which a figure slowly reveals itself behind someone. If you think that watching someone get goofily thrown off of a ladder by an unseen presence is scary, then this is the film for you. And unlike most modern horror films, there’s hardly even any strong jump scares to liven things up a bit. Jump scares can be lazily done, but here they would have at least added some excitement to a film that’s even more lifeless than its primary antagonist.

The Gallows ends on such a sour note that it will be tempting not to throw your popcorn and soda at the screen when the lights in the theater come up. The film is basically everything that is wrong with modern horror, personified into one awful little package. The found-footage aspect is pointlessly used and doesn’t make any sense in the context of the story. If these kids are breaking into their school and committing a crime, would they really be filming it all? Again, most of these problems could have been overlooked if the directors had at least provided viewers with something interesting, but this is an experience that’s painful from start to finish. Hopefully The Gallows will end up being the worst horror film of the year, because I shudder to think of watching something worse than this piece of garbage.

The Gallows receives 0.5/4

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