'The Gallows Act II': Film Review

Courtesy of Blumhouse Productions
Emphatically unimaginative.

Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff’s follow-up to their 2015 low-budget horror feature concerns the threatening influence of a malevolent website perpetuating an ominous urban legend.

When Blumhouse Productions rolls out the sequel to a low-budget horror movie, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the release might be something intriguing, given the popularity of the Purge, Paranormal Activity and Insidious franchises. Only in this case, 2015’s The Gallows was a critical disaster, suggesting that profit was the principal motive behind releasing this follow-up, since the Blumhouse hallmark is about all that The Gallows Act II has going for it.

Perhaps if the producers had hired filmmakers on a par with James Wan or Oren Peli, they might have hoped for something better than this tiresomely unimaginative feature, which looks unlikely to gain much attention among the surfeit of horror titles currently hitting theaters and VOD.

The events of Act II are almost completely unconnected to the 2015 pic, aside from perpetuating an ominous urban legend about The Gallows, a sinister stage play from the mid-1990s that resulted in the accidental hanging death of castmember Charlie Grimley when it was first performed. This time, the unsuspecting target of the suspenseful drama is teenager Auna Rue (Ema Horvath), who finds a copy of the script in the library at her new high school after watching an amateur video shared by “AlmostFamous99,” a recent follower on her perpetually lame YouTube video blog. Skimming through the pages, she selects a tragic monologue that she performs in her theater class, seriously impressing her teacher Mr. Schlake (Dennis Hurley) after her first performance turned into a total disaster.

Co-writers/co-directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff’s hurried setup dispenses with any plot details from the strange drama and does nothing to explain why exactly it might pose a threat to performers. The implication of the original release was that some supernatural force was at work in the deaths of several teens involved in a revival of The Gallows. The sequel fails to add any further clarity, however, even after introducing an ominously menacing character referred to as The Hangman.

Auna soon discovers a malevolent stash of online video clips after she gets another message from AlmostFamous99, who suggests that she attempt the “Charlie Challenge” and directs her to the “sneakyhangman” website. It seems that the challenge is to shoot a video while reading a passage from The Gallows to see if it provokes any supernatural activity inspired by Charlie. The unexpected result is modestly spooky, prompting hundreds of new followers to subscribe to her YouTube profile after she posts the video online. Before long, though, she’s catching glimpses of a threatening ghostly figure that seems to be shadowing her, as her virtual fans encourage her to take increasingly dangerous risks with her videos.

Lofing and Cluff’s script blends horror and thriller elements without ever settling on a clear genre choice. The film’s surprising final twist only serves to emphasize its narrative incoherence, precipitated by insufficient backstory and inadequate character development. Not that there’s much reason to care about the fate of these largely generic characters, all poorly served by unremarkable casting and performances.

Although it seems unlikely that The Gallows Act II will ever see a subsequent installment, one of the pic’s recurring themes emphasizes that videos can survive almost indefinitely on the internet, so there’s always a chance it could be pointlessly resurrected, again.

Production companies: Blumhouse, Tremendum Pictures, Entertainment 360
Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Ema Horvath, Chris Milligan, Brittany Falardeau, Jono Cota, Dennis Hurley
Directors-writers: Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff
Producers: Jason Blum, Guymon Casady, Dean Schnider, Benjamin Forkner, Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff
Executive producer: Couper Samuelson
Director of photography: Kyle Gentz
Production designer: Max Martinez
Costume designer: Trina Short
Editors: Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff
Music: Zach Lemmon
Casting director: Carollyn DeVore

Rated R, 99 minutes