The horror B-movie “The Gallows” opened four years to near universal critical derision and a piddly $22 million or so, all in, at the box office.
So why, exactly, is there a sequel? Did it blow up online? Was it a Netflix smash?
Whatever its reception, SOME of us thought enough of the premise back in 2015 to think SOMEbody missed an opportunity with it. Bringing back the same writer/director team for “The Gallows: Act II” and making it for another distributor turns out to be no way to avoid repeating that mistake.
The pitch? There’s this haunted play, “The Gallows,” that a kid named Charlie Grimille died performing, hung onstage by the “gallows” of the show’s title. Just reading the play aloud sets “the curse” in motion.
So what we’ve got is a high school theater geeks version of the “Slender Man” or “Bloody Mary” curses of legend, hyped into “Blair Witch” territory by Internet viral discussion, shared videos of deaths, theories, etc.
If you’ve ever worked in the theater, on any level, you’ve heard ghost stories — the older the theater, the better the tale. My college theater allegedly had one, and a theatre I’ve attended and reviewed shows in over the years has long had an infamous spectral inhabitant.
For the sequel, the writing/directing team of Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing keep the play, abandon the “theater” and limply play up the viral side of the “curse,” how it is spread, how information about it is shared and why teenagers would put this stuff up online.
For fame and money, of course.
The prologue has teens messing around with a fake ouija board, scaring each other and recording it on their phones, before pulling out a battered copy of the play’s script. Reading from it brings rumbles of thunder, and a delayed hanging or two via a swingset.
Ema Horvath plays Auna Rue, and with a pretentiously theatrical name like that, you KNOW she’s got a yen to perform. She’s starting a new school, living with her step-sister (Brittany Falardeau), a costumer at a local theater company. And she blows her big reading in front of drama class because it’s from some insipid kiddie fantasy video she loved as a child, and she’s nervous and maybe a little light on talent.
But she’s led to this play, that sure enough, the library has on file. A reading from “The Gallows” for a college theater program talent scout could be her ticket to fame.
Because this Youtube channel she started isn’t doing the trick. Like every cute teenager, she wants attention and “followers” online via her vlog. It’s not until she starts reading from the play for that vlog that the traffic explodes.
She’s at a loss to explain that. Then she watches the video. Furniture MOVES in the background. A later reading is interrupted by something flying off the wall at her.
Best moments in “The Gallows: Act II?” Hovarth, as Auna, giggling at this as if the supernatural is something every kid her age accepts at face value. The dears.
Reading from “The Gallows” turns around her standing with the drama kids and teacher (Dennis Hurley). The only problem is, she tends to zone out and not remember performing the piece, she’s so lost in the part.
She’s hallucinating threats, as is her stepsister — shapes in the shadows around the house. Even her first injury at the hands of this “curse” isn’t enough to wake her up.
Who can she turn to? The classmate/cute former child actor (Chris Milligan) who’s hitting on her? The step sister that thinks she has no talent?
The web-side of the storytelling has been done better in scores of movies over the years. The plot packs all its surprises in the finale, which is cheating of the far-too-little-too-late school.
I’m guessing Lofing and Cluff do really good pitch meetings, because there’s nothing here that explains that “green light.”
The frights the filmmakers conjure up are middling, at best. And “Act II” may be the mildest “R” rating in the history of horror films. Garroting the victims with ropes and whatnot is never going to be as gory as the leavings of a chainsaw massacre.
No tension, no titillation and far too little theater nerd connection leave this sequel — say it with me — hanging.
MPAA Rating: R for some disturbing violent content
Cast: Ema Horvath, Chris Milligan, Brittany Falardeau and Jono Cota
Credits: Written and directed by Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff. A Blumhouse/Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:37