GORE IN THE STORE
THE GALLOWS ACT II ***
Directed by Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing. Starring Ema Horvath, Chris Milligan, Brittany Falardeau, Dennis Hurley, Pfeifer Brown, Deandre Pierre, Erika Miranda. USA 2019 96 minutes. Certificate: 15.
Released on DVD from Lionsgate on January 6th 2020.
Not a movie known for troubling anyone’s memory banks two minutes after viewing, 2015’s THE GALLOWS was a low budget found footage horror movie picked up by Blumhouse and Warner Bros that turned over a very decent theatrical profit. It had a creepy theatrical backdrop and a satisfyingly downbeat ending, but otherwise unimaginatively trotted through the usual simulation of “police department footage” complete with slamming doors, LOUD bumping-into-each-other scares, spontaneously appearing nooses and unlikeable characters dragged to their doom. A sequel was swiftly greenlit and screenings of THE GALLOWS ACT II – from the same writing-directing duo – were reported as early as 2017 but Blumhouse has had much bigger fish to fry and the unloved follow-up is only now creeping out into public view, looking a tad sheepish and dated.
For those (read: everyone) that need a recap on the events of the original film, an opening phone-cam sequence offers a reminder of the backstory about the eponymous cursed play, laced with the kind of fake jump scares aimed at gullible eleven year old girls biding time until the next ANNABELLE sequel. The resulting video clip is watched by 15 million YouTubers and ACT II’s heroine (Ema Horvath) later in the plot. Otherwise, the found footage format is pleasingly abandoned and we get to know teen vlogger / aspiring actress Horvath, constantly fretting over her meagre 200 (and descending) followers as she starts a new high school renowned for a prestigious drama program that has been a launching pad for Broadway stars.
ACT II is padded by Horvath’s evolving relationship with hunky Chris Milligan, a student clearly bordering on 30: we get lengthy, bland romantic treehouse get-togethers only occasionally perked up when the Gallows-influenced Horvath randomly starts trying to choke him to death. The audience is on her side in these fleeting moments. Teen horror tends to date more than most sub-genres, though this one already looks a tad creaky with its narrative use of the “Charlie Challenge” (this was, apparently, a pop culture “thing” for about 20 minutes a few years ago). Horvath, inspired by the spooky “Gallows” video, bids to increase her viewing figures by reading aloud from the play as a “Charlie Challenge” – akin to narrating a passage from the Necronomicon while staying at a cabin in a mist-enshrouded woodland with a handsome square-jawed chap who fancies himself but proves prone to getting concussed by falling shelving. She still seems surprised when viewers spot bedroom furniture moving around of its own accord in her now-haunted room.
To their credit, directors Cluff and Lofing strive to create an eerie atmosphere with lengthy sequences of the heroine wandering around her darkened house (one of these new-builds with no light switches) while imposing ghostly figures appear in the background shadows. These do, at times, create a sense of unease, but audience faith and patience is tested (even more than most of this sub-genre) by the endless, grating “sorry, we didn’t mean to scare you!” fake scares. One sequence with a delayed punchline involving Hovarth’s sister has so many contrived musical stings you actually start yearning for more romantic treehouse interludes.
Boring jump scares aside, ACT II has more hanging scenes than any movie in recent memory and a perky but not especially compelling lead performance. As with its predecessor, it at least bows out with a downbeat twist, but if you want a movie about an insecure teen vlogger, please immediately watch Bo Burnham’s wonderful EIGHTH GRADE and if you need to watch a slightly less annoying and seldom scary film about a cursed play, THE GALLOWS is still out there.