There was a brief period of time in 2015 when The Gallows was considered the scariest film of the year. Early reports claimed it to be traumatising and intense, a truly terrifying horror experience but months later, the film turned out to be one of the biggest duds in horror cinema. The Gallows, which followed a group of high school teenagers being hunted by the malevolent spirit of Charlie Grimille was too familiar and too safe and just not very scary despite best efforts to make Charlie a horror icon like Freddy or Jason.
A sequel seemed inevitable regardless, because even the really bad horror films tend to make decent money at the box office. So here we are, four years later with The Gallows Act II, which somehow makes The Gallows look like a horror masterpiece.
The first film at least had a very neat visual style going for it. While the found-footage style felt a bit bland and old, the stark contrast and the use of colour added something exciting to the film. Act II somehow feels messier, more unfocused and at times, completely illogical. It’s a shame, because there are some menacing moments here too, but the film never comes together well enough to be a satisfying experience.
The Gallows Act II follows Auna Rue, a wannabe YouTube celebrity, who moves in with her sister to attend a new school with a killer drama programme. Auna is desperate to gain more views and followers and dreams of being a star and in her desperation, results to doing ‘Charlie Challenge’, which may not be quite as harmless and innocent as she thought. She goes viral, but she has also accidentally invoked the spirit of Charlie Grimille.
There’s a decent film in here somewhere, but the biggest shortcoming of Act II is the filmmaking itself. The story tries so hard to be modern and timely, perhaps a little too ‘woke’, it comes across a little fake, but we could forgive it if the scares were good or we were invested in the characters and their fate. Auna Rue, played by Ema Horvath, comes across as infuriatingly self-centred and childish. She makes completely illogical and selfish decisions throughout the film and Horvath can’t give the impression Auna has any personality or depth as a character.
No one else in the film makes an impression, we’re introduced to other characters but no one seems to have anything meaningful to contribute to the plot so they all disappear or fade to the background without names or personalities. Auna’s love interest Cade has the personality of a wet cloth and the revelation of his parents being famous theatre stars seems pointless and a little too on the nose. The Gallows Act II is a film that focuses on one character and her journey, but the problem here is that she isn’t likable or relatable.
Critics and audiences love to trash films with jump scares, but there’s no denying they’re effective. At worst, they’re lazy and tired, but a well-constructed jump scare should shake you to your core and trigger a fight-or-flight response. Act II sets up every single jump scare so meticulously and obviously that it loses the surprise element, which is what all jump scares fundamentally rely on. The imagery is all there, Charlie with his noose is a terrifying vision, but he never quite becomes the centre of the terror. The reason Jason, Freddy, and Michael are huge horror icons is that they have their own distinct personalities and trademark scares. Even Michael without any dialogue is a terrifying, if not the most terrifying horror villain of all time because he’s so in control in his own films. Charlie always feels like an accessory in his own franchise.
There’s also the issue of the ending, which features a twist, quite a big twist in fact. Twist endings are mostly exhausting these days because filmmakers have to work really hard to construct them properly and make them seem natural and connected to the rest of the film, which isn’t an easy feat. Without venturing into spoiler territory, the twist at the end of The Gallows Act II is baffling. Writer-directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing have searched for a way to surprise the viewer in the end, but it loses all meaning if it says nothing. It’s the kind of ending that probably had Cluff and Lofing high-five each other after writing it. It could have made a pretty powerful statement and speak about our generation’s obsession with clout and online presence, but it’s not set up properly or followed through.
Act II is also very bloodless and weirdly deathless for a horror film. Most of us tune in to these films for the spectacle of violence and to experience fear in a relatively safe environment, whether it’s our sofa at home or the lush seats at the local cinema. The Gallows Act II fails to provide either. The first film smartly inserted a group of teens into one, fairly large location to kill them off one by one, which is classic horror, specifically slasher film plot. With only one character, Act II runs into a problem when there’s no one to kill. What good is a slasher film without any kills? The poorly executed jump scares and the unpleasant main character make The Gallows Act II a huge disappointment.
Dir: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Scr: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Cast: Ema Horvath, Chris Milligan, Brittany Falardeau
DoP: Kyle Gentz
Music: Zach Lemmon
Country: United States
Runtime: 99 min
The Gallows Act II is released on DVD and digital on January 6th, 2020.