Found-footage horror, The Gallows, was a minor hit in 2015. Neither audiences nor critics liked it very much. Yet for some reason, Blumhouse Productions greenlit a sequel pretty quickly. Call it buyer’s remorse, but someone wasn’t in a rush to release The Gallows Act II. After collecting dust for two years, Lionsgate dumped the sequel onto Blu-ray and VOD-services at the end of October. With only generic-looking teen horror flick, Countdown, in theaters, Lionsgate’s decision to not give The Gallows Act II a theatrical release is not encouraging.
Aspiring actress Auna Rue transfers to a prestigious in the hopes of kick-starting her career. For most of her life, Auna’s older sister has overshadowed her. Haunted by her own insecurities, Auna gives a terrible performance on her first day. But when a mysterious new YouTube follower messages her with ‘The Charlie Challenge’, Auna’s life seemingly takes a positive turn. She attracts hundreds of new followers to her YouTube channel, turns her acting around, and meets a cute boy. However, Auna’s successes come with a price. A malevolent force tied to a tragic death begins haunting Auna, putting everyone around her in danger.
The Gallows Act II Goes Through The Motions
Despite ditching the unnecessary found-footage format, The Gallows Act II still struggles to find memorable scares. It’s part execution, part familiarity. Things start promisingly enough. Directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff craft some creaky images despite an utterly familiar cold open. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie – one step forward, two steps back. On the one hand, the decision to abandon the found-footage format allows Lofing and Cluff to construct much better set-ups for scares. Nonetheless, The Gallows Act II seems more content to parrot prototypical scares from much better movies.
Some of these scares hit their marks, others miss entirely.
From start to finish, The Gallows Act II serves as a checklist of requisite horror movie tropes. Teens playing around with the occult or a ‘haunted game – check (see Truth or Dare, Ouija). A character tilts a mirror or opens and closes a cupboard or fridge door. Will a spectral figure appear for a jump scare? Yes, they will. Need to find out how to stop a supernatural evil? Will the characters visit someone in a mental asylum? Of course. Some of these scares hit their marks, others miss entirely. None of it shows much effort or innovation.
Convoluted Ending More Likely to Evoke Groans, Not Goosebumps
Most of The Gallows Act II plays out as expected. Aside from its ‘haunted play’, Lofing and Cluff shoehorn in a very brief, tenuous connection to the first movie. It feels more like an effort to justify the sequel’s existence than a natural narrative progression between the two movies. Like The Gallows, Act II tries to execute a surprise last-minute twist. And just like the first movie’s ending, Act II doesn’t quite stick the landing. Though a few breadcrumbs are dropped throughout the movie, the ending is still a convoluted mess. Movie like Kill List, Hereditary, and The Wicker Man left audiences numb with their nihilistic endings. In contrast, The Gallows Act Ii is more likely to leave you groaning with its improbable conclusion.
Over-Acting and a Nondescript Villain Scare Life Out of The Gallows Act II
Newcomer Ema Horvath takes the lead in The Gallows Act II. Playing an ambitious, but untalented, wannabe actress, Horvath’s performance is either brilliantly ‘meta’ or just bad. It’s a strained performance to say the least, which makes it difficult to connect with her character’s plight. In addition, Loffing and Cluff’s screenplay doesn’t exactly make Horvath’s ‘Auna Rue’ a particularly sympathetic character. As for the rest of the performances, they’re largely passable. Pfiefer Brown briefly reprises her role from The Gallows, in a scene-chewing bit of over-acting.
… Horvath’s performance is either brilliantly ‘meta’ or just bad.
With regard to the movie’s antagonist, The Hangman doesn’t make much of a ‘Boogeyman’. It’s a nondescript entity that feels more like an amalgamation of scarier horror movie villains mixed together. Act II very much wants ‘The Hangman’ to be an omnipresent threat, not unlike the ‘monster’ in It Follows. But its muddled mythology and lack of any real defining presence leave ‘The Hangman’ feeling more like an empty threat. This isn’t the kind of premise upon which you build a franchise.
Unnecessary Sequel A Slight Improvement … But Not Much
The Gallows Act II is a marginal improvement over the first movie. But that’s not saying much. Occasionally creepy images and scenes are overwhelmed by the sequel’s generic approach to the material. Strained connections to the first movie, a poor lead performance, and a convoluted ending ultimately sink The Gallows Act II. Clearly, Blumhouse and Lionsgate knew what they had on their hands. Now let’s hope they don’t decide to subject us to a third act.