In 1993, Beatrice High School’s production of “The Gallows” turned tragic when Charlie Grimille accidentally died by the noose in a horrible accident. Twenty years later, the school is doing the play again, “honoring” in very odd fashion Charlie’s death.
That’s the setup for “The Gallows,” a high school horror movie, co-written, co-directed, co-produced and co-edited by Beatrice native Chris Lofing, that’s better than it has any right to be.
Primarily set in “Beatrice High School,” really an auditorium in Fresno, California, “The Gallows” brings together four students -- jock Ryan (Ryan Shoos), his cheerleader girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford), the school’s drama queen Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown) and Reese (Reese Mishler), another jock who’s quit the football team to take the lead in the play.
Reese, however, is far from a natural actor. Flubbing his lines and a stiff on stage, he appears to be leading the production to a disaster. So his obnoxious buddy Ryan hatches a plan. Meet up at the school late at night, go in through a permanently unlocked stage door and destroy the set. Reese reluctantly agrees. Then Cassidy decides to join the duo.
Once inside, they start tearing apart the gallows and -- surprise, surprise -- Pfeifer turns up, wondering what the other three are doing there. But that query is soon replaced by other, more urgent questions like why are the doors that were unlocked being locked, what’s making the noises, and who is messing with the lights.
At that point, it’s clear exactly where “The Gallows” is going. But, to the film’s credit, it holds interest better than most such scarefests -- for two reasons, starting with the characters.
While they’re all “types,” the quartet members are all believable and convincing. Mishler is especially good as the nice guy hero, who’s sacrificing his jock cred because of his secret crush on Pfeifer. Brown pretty well embodies an obsessed high school thespian, and Gifford is a typical cheerleader.
All this is seen through the camera of Ryan, who is filming the play from rehearsals onward for the theater class he’s forced to take. Obnoxious, overbearing and not close to as funny as he thinks he is, Ryan’s one of those horror film characters that you hope will die -- a measure of Shoos’ performance and the construction of the character.
The seen-through-the-camera style means “found footage,” the shaky, hand-held camera style of filming popularized by “The Blair Witch Project” and subsequently beat to death in dozens of horror pictures. But “The Gallows” breathes new life into the technique, in part by shifting from camera to camera, making some of the picture appear to have been filmed through a cellphone.
The freshness of the high school characters and the revived found-footage technique, however, can’t pull “The Gallows” out of scary movie formula. But the movie’s well enough plotted and, critically, at 1 hour, 20 minutes, is short enough to hold the interest and, I’m guessing when seen with an audience, generate some jumpy fright.