A school restages a play where a tragic accident took place with terrible consequences…
‘Happiest days of your life’ is the phrase often used to describe schooldays although that doesn’t take into account the pressure of exams or, worse still, the school play where an especially keen drama teacher at my school was insistent on personally applying full make-up to all the boys taking part even if they were working backstage. He had an interesting take on re-interpreting well-known stage works for the annual school play. ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ saw him insisting that all the brides were played by pre-pubescent schoolboys and the school Governor’s concerns were confirmed at his interpretation of the musical, ‘Oliver!’ where Fagin’s feral gang of pickpockets were re-imagined as Thai lady boys.
It’s the school play that is at the centre of new release, The Gallows where, in a pivotal scene, a student called Charlie is tragically hanged on stage. 20 years later the school decides to stage the play again with the lead male, Reese, well played by Reese Mishler purely doing it as he has a crush on Pfeifer (Pfiefer Brown) the female lead in the play, a stage-struck prima donna student. Having left the sports football team in his quest for love Reese finds his old team-mate Ryan Shoos intent on sabotaging the play to save Reese from the embarrassment of his wooden performance and together with his own cheerleader girlfriend, Cassidy played by, yes, you’ve guessed it , an actress called Cassidy, they break into the school to vandalise the gallows ensuring that the play has to be cancelled not realising that someone, or something, is out to get them.
19 years after The Blair Witch Project we have, yet again, another entry in the ‘found footage’ canon and yet again it shows just how difficult it is to successfully pull it off. Here the footage is provided by the sports jock Ryan and his video camera intent on recording their petty crime as they vandalise the set before things go awry for them. Many filmmakers have found this is an extremely economic way of filming and this being a Blumhouse Production, king of the low-budget/high-return horror genre, is no different as the two directors, Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing make this, their debut feature. Unfortunately this is now such a well worn genre it’s increasingly difficult to find something new and here anything vaguely ominous is signposted by a low rumbling soundtrack effect and what seems to be an inescapable part of this genre is that once they start panicking we’re subjected to endless shots of floors, walls and running feet.
There are moments of inspiration: a clever symmetry to the script, nods to stage tradition where, much like Macbeth, you never mention the dead student Charlie’s name but it’s not enough to carry an albeit brief 80 minute film. Perhaps its credibility is lost from the beginning in the unlikely event that a school would restage a play where a tragic death has taken place and it’s the sort of crass idea that you can imagine top hack director Uwe Boll thinking would be a fitting tribute as exemplified by his 2011 abomination, Auschwitz.
It’s unlikely to be in cinemas for long so if you’ll excuse the pun, don’t hang around if you want to see The Gallows when it opens this week.
Words: Simon Hooper @anygoodfilms