Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Gallows Act II, from Blumhouse

This play is so depressing, it makes Clifford Odets sound breezy and fun. Yet, it is perversely popular with drama students, because of its body count. Charlie Grimille died in a freak accident during the high school production that opened the first film, so now gothy kids like to invoke his spirit Candy Man-style with internet readings. The so-called “Charlie Challenge” yields plenty of YouTube stats for an aspiring teen thesp, but it is still a very, very bad idea in Chris Lofing & Travis Cluff’s Blumhouse-produced sequel The Gallows Act II, which opens tomorrow in New York.

Nobody takes Auna Rue very seriously, least of all her parents, largely because of her acting ambitions. Nevertheless, she agrees to be shunted off on her older sister, so she can attend a 90210-ish high school with a prestigious drama department. Of course, she humiliates herself in her first monologue attempt, but she rebounds after posting a Charlie Challenge.

Rue’s socials are exploding and the classroom feedback for her Gallows monologue is rapturous. However, there will be a price to pay. Most likely, the spectral hangman stalking her eventually intends to collect. Technically, Charlie Challengers are supposed to hang themselves, but he seems to have no qualms about targeting the people around her.

Horror fans who take the genre seriously will probably find Act II terribly annoying, because of the ways it undercuts the prior film’s mythology. It also refuses to definitely commit to the fundamental nature of the evil at its core. Instead, it tosses out contradictory jump scares, which suggest both supernatural and sinister human agencies at play.

Admittedly, the play-that-kills Macguffin has promise, but the excerpts we hear of The Gallows are so dreary, nobody would want to see a special one-night only production at a horror convention. It is also hard to buy into the enduring fascination it supposedly holds for so many shallow teens. Honestly, looking for logical consistency in Lofing & Cluff’s screenplay is a fool’s errand.

It is a shame how completely the film unravels, because Ema Horvath displays a lot of energy and offbeat screen charisma as Rue. Plus, she develops some surprisingly fresh chemistry with Chris Milligan playing Cade Parker, a sensitive jock and potential love interest, at least until the film decides to lurch in a completely different direction. Dennis Hurley is also far more interesting than the rest of the supporting ensemble’s cookie-cutter base-line as Mr. Schlake, the drama teacher, so it is too bad he doesn’t have a more substantial role to play.

It would be an absolutely torturous process to try to explain and justify the relationship between later scenes with those coming earlier in the film, in terms narrative continuity. Perhaps more importantly, this sequel just isn’t all that scary or suspenseful. Not recommended, The Gallows Act II opens tomorrow (10/25) in New York, at the Cinema Village.