Had the creators of the "The Gallows" ditched its overdone found-footage concept and opted for more traditional shooting, they might have wrung a more immersive and stylish piece from the film's juicy high-school theater setting.
Still, writers and directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing reportedly made this horror-thriller for about $100,000 (plus completion funds from producers Entertainment 360 and Blumhouse), and their scrappy resourcefulness counters the often choppy, tiresome visuals.
The film takes place in a small Nebraska town (it was shot mainly in and around Fresno) where, in 1993, a "prop malfunction" occurred during a high school production titled "The Gallows." The result: the accidental hanging death of young thespian Charlie Grimille (Jesse Cross).
Twenty years later, the same school is remounting the play — and it doesn't take a psychic to know this will be a bad idea.
The night before the play's revival, four students — earnest "Gallows" cast members Reese (Reese Mishler) and Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown), Reese's jerky best bud, Ryan (Ryan Shoos), and Ryan's hot girlfriend, Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) — end up locked inside the school as, it seems, Charlie's spirit is seeking revenge for his untimely death. Why exactly he's wreaking havoc on these particular kids is just one of many narrative curiosities and contrivances.
Plot holes aside, the filmmakers provide enough well-timed jumps and energetic moments to keep the highly contained picture afloat. Yet, as so often happens watching these "Blair Witch"-like projects, excess time can be spent wondering who's supposedly shooting the bits of the "unearthed" video — and why.
MPAA rating: R for disturbing violent content, terror.
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.
Playing: In general release.