PLOT: A teenage aspiring actress finds inspiration in the cursed play The Gallows, but when she reads a monologue from the play out loud it unleashes the spirit of supernatural hangman Charlie Grimille.
REVIEW: I was more impressed by the behind the scenes story of the 2015 film THE GALLOWS than I was by the movie itself. The writing/directing duo of Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing managed to get together enough cash to shoot their own movie, then uploaded a trailer for their indie movie to the internet. That trailer was such a viral hit that Blumhouse was convinced to come on board the project and paid for extensive reshoots. Then the finished film ended up getting a summer theatrical release from New Line Cinema and earned over $40 million at the global box office. That’s a terrific success story. But the movie itself didn’t do anything for me. The concept was cool – a supernatural hangman stalks a group of teens through the halls of their high school after hours – but the execution was underwhelming. I was left feeling like I might have liked THE GALLOWS more if it hadn’t been shot in the found footage style, which I tend to be annoyed by, and if there had been more characters for the hangman to hang. Basically, if it had been more like a traditionally shot slasher movie.
For the sequel THE GALLOWS: ACT II, Cluff and Lofing do leave the found footage style behind, but unfortunately they don’t take the same approach of having the spirit knock off a group of teens one-by-one. This is one of the rare instances where the filmmakers have attempted to make a sequel that has more substance than its predecessor. But this approach to the material just didn’t work for me, either.
One positive thing I can say about THE GALLOWS: ACT II is that lead actress Ema Horvath delivers a strong performance in the lead role of teenage aspiring actress Auna Rue. Horvath proves capable of carrying a film and handling anything Cluff and Lofing throw at her, and I think she could have a great career ahead of her. Despite her best efforts, she just couldn’t keep this movie from being a slog to get through.
Cluff and Lofing were clever to start the sequel with a found footage opening that works as a transition between the styles of the two films. They could have kept the found footage thing going, since Auna has a YouTube channel and is desperately seeking followers, but the traditional shooting style is appreciated here. ACT II is well shot, the directors and cinematographer Kyle Gentz were able to capture some cool imagery, particularly in the spirit attack scenes. That’s not an issue. The movie’s problems are in the pacing and the writing.
We meet Auna just as she’s starting to attend Fellbrook High School, a place known for its “insane” drama program and for being the alma mater of a famous Broadway couple. A scout from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts will be stopping by later in the year in search of a student to give a scholarship to, and Auna wants to be that student. With the pressure weighing heavily on her, she flubs an audition where she tries to deliver a monologue from a childhood favorite, RETURN TO THAYOLUND. We see a bit of RETURN TO THAYOLUND and it looks like a bad direct-to-video 2019 fantasy movie, but it’s supposed to be an old school classic, complete with a synth score. At least the bit of that score we hear is cool. Things take a turn for the horrific when a fan of Auna’s YouTube channel points her in the direction of a play called The Gallows. It seems it has become popular among teens to read from this play, even though they risk being cursed by the spirit of Charlie Grimille if they do. You know Charlie, the high school kid who was accidentally hanged for real during a production of The Gallows back in 1993, so now his ghost goes around hanging others.
Although Charlie scores two kills in the first 6 minutes of the movie, he’s in no hurry to off Auna. She draws his attention with more than an hour left in the overstuffed 100 minute running time, and what follows is one of the most unengaging hauntings I have ever witnessed. Auna has visions of the hangman as the movie spins its wheels through one awkward, poorly paced scene after another. Did you come to THE GALLOWS: ACT II wanting to see the ghost of Charlie hang more victims? Well, after the opening you’re going to have a long wait before you get to see any of that again. In the meantime, you’ll get more than enough scenes following Auna’s slow psychological and physical breakdown, plus scenes of her striking up a relationship with former child actor Cade (Chris Milligan), being pressured by her “fan” to delve deeper into the Charlie curse, having arguments with her unsupportive sister Lisa (Brittany Falardeau), and checking her YouTube view count.
Maybe some viewers will be able to bring themselves to care about what’s going on with Auna and Charlie, but I found this to be an achingly dull movie that was a struggle to endure. As the end credits began after the eye-rolling climax, I came to the unexpected realization that I actually enjoyed the first movie more than this one. I didn’t like the first movie, but I got even less out of watching ACT II.
THE GALLOWS: ACT II is getting a VOD and limited theatrical release on October 25th. It can purchased through Amazon Prime at THIS LINK.