I have to admit: I can’t remember a whole lot about The Gallows, the micro-budget horror film from 2015 that found a massive ROI despite strong negative reaction from audiences and critics. What I do remember is being unimpressed. But the film was financially impressive enough, shoring up almost $43 million on a reportedly $100,000 budget. Certainly enough to warrant the greenlight for a sequel.
From what I can tell, there is no plan for a national rollout of this sequel. The Gallows Act II, directed by the same duo as the first film (Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing), is playing in one theater in the city of its production (and possibly a theater in Los Angeles). It is also available on streaming (marked down to $1.99 on Amazon for Prime subscribers). Beyond this, I see no evidence of theatrical or online distribution. Perhaps this is for the best, and it certainly is telling.
The Gallows Act II centers around Auna Rue (Ema Horvath), a new student at the local high school with aspirations of treading the boards. Luckily for her, the Tisch School of the Arts are sending a talent scout to her school that very week. Unluckily for her, though, she unknowingly brings the ghost of an actor who was accidentally hanged on stage into her life via her YouTube channel.
Spooky stuff. Anyway, it’s bad.
The Gallows benefited (I guess) from being a found footage film. At least in this framing the formal inconsistencies are hidden by the found footageness of it all. With The Gallows Act II, the stylistic features are jarring in their amateurishness.
We witness this abundantly in the film’s cold open, which takes place in a cavernous basement of someone’s house. We don’t know whose house, because the film doesn’t take the time to establish where we are or who the characters are. For a cold open, it barely does what a cold open is meant to do, which is to establish the premise.
Instead, the characters make brief mention of Charlie Grimille, the film’s boogeyman, amidst a flurry of camera edits that ignore all geographic rules of continuity. The film darts on either side of the 180-degree line. Shots cutaway at random. There is no rhythm to any of it. The scene does none of the contextualization it ought to do. And there’s no tension to the introduction of the seance-lite tool of the “The Gallows” playbill.
This two-minute scene does establish one thing accurately. It tips viewers off to how visually unskilled the film is.
Most of the film is lit to minimize shadows, disregarding any sort of realism of motivated light within the story world. What results is a film where everyone comes in looking crisp and soft as if in an advertisement. The only difference is when “spooky stuff” is happening, where everything is murky and blue-lit. In either case, it doesn’t exactly function as mood lighting.
The camera work is exceedingly standard until it overtly and unintentionally breaks a basic rule of filmmaking. Same goes for sound (early in the film, when Auna is first introduced, the sound cuts out completely at one point). And the staging of horror movie gags couldn’t be more basic. The imagery of hanged bodies, hooded figures, and hands jumping out of (literally) thin air to grasp at throats is not terrifying; it is laughable.
At least I can say I found some enjoyment out of this last point. I needed a good chuckle after a long day. I found it in Auna hallucinating in class, reading something or other about JFK until a hand shoots forth from the book and grabs her throat. In one sense, the scare got me, just not as intended.
The Gallows was not a good film. But I am grasping to my vague memories of it as I claim it to be much better than The Gallows Act II. Found footage hate is based in some kernels of truth about the format, but at least it hides basic flaws (it also allows for some innovative stuff when in the hands of the right filmmakers, but I am not claiming The Gallows fits in this camp).
The Gallows Act II looks bad, it sounds bad, and its narrative is conventional at best. The only thing really going for it is Horvath as a protagonist whose dreams of Broadway glory are tied up in the haunting of a dead thespian. That is an interesting idea in a general sense, but the fact that the script has no way of naturally marrying these two ideas is all the more telling of its lack of filmmaking competency.
The Gallows Act II: F
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)