Director: Andrew Goth
Writer: Joanne Reay, Andrew Goth
Producer: Jack Bowyer, Courteny Lauren Penn, Brandon Burrows
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Kevin Howarth, Riley Smith, Tanit Phoenix, Simona Brhlikova, Steven Elder, Patrick Bergin, Diamond Dallas Page, Jenny Gago
A cursed outlaw recruits a new gunman to aid in the fight against creatures that return from the dead after being killed by his bullets.
The surface of “Gallowwalkers” gives it the appearance of being a genre-blending mix of Wild West action coupled with undead horror. And while those elements are included, everything is crushed under a script that generates unintended laughs when it is not busy bringing fingernails to the scalp with a confusing story and a nonsensical plot structure.
Legend has it that when Nostradamus prophesized his infamous quatrains, he threw them into the air and published them in the order in which they landed, instead of the order in which they were written. The purpose was reportedly so that deciphering their meanings and chronology would be more challenging for academics. Taking a page from the French seer’s playbook, the filmmakers here went with a similar approach in constructing the scenes for “Gallowwalkers.” The sequence of events, character appearances, and revelatory dialogue exchanges are in direct competition with each other to see which can be the most random, vague, and indecipherable.
Wesley Snipes is Aman, a cursed gunman out for a second time to avenge the evil done to his beloved. The first time, Aman was able to punish Kansa and his band of rapists via the manner in which outlaws typically dispense their brand of justice. But a deal made between Aman’s mother and The Devil to save Aman’s life came with a curse. Those who die by Aman’s hand are doomed to be resurrected as creatures called “gallowwalkers.” Now Aman has to kill them all again, and make sure that they remain dead once and for all.
That would have been story enough, but “Gallowwalkers” refuses to stop there. Adding to the plotline pileup is Kansa’s search for the gateway between Heaven and Hell. Where exactly that door would lead is anyone’s guess. Is that Limbo, Earth, Purgatory, or what? There is also a sisterhood that protects the portal, an imprisoned preacher hawking snake oil, a high and mighty sheriff, and a whore turned thief that have something to do with the story, as well. Oh, and the Mistress who runs the slaughterhouse, her Apprentice Boy, the man Aman recruits as his partner, some guy with horns on his head, and assorted gang members in the current timeline as well as one from the past.
According to the credits, these characters have names, although the script may be the only other place where their monikers are used. Fueling the rampant confusion that plagues the film is an overflowing roster of people whose identities and affiliations are unclear from their screen entrances to their screen exits. People come and go, mutter goofy phrases, change appearances, wear masks, and do everything in their power to keep the audience wondering what is going on, no matter how hard anyone tries to pay attention.
Promotional materials for the film give the impression that the “gallowwalkers” can be likened to zombies, but this is not the case. Having been resurrected after death, “gallowwalkers” are technically undead, but their portrayal is actually as more of a creature no different than another evil human, except with albino features and a more sinister attitude.
Wesley Snipes’ presence in “Gallowwalkers” is billed as the main attraction when in reality, his performance is the only one of the film’s detriments that cannot be directly attributed to the script. Snipes must have grown so comfortable over the course of three outings as Marvel Comics’ Blade that he is incapable of portraying a fantasy hero as anything other than a Saturday morning cartoon character. Between the labored dialogue delivery and the exaggerated gestures, stifling a snicker at his character’s every action is a colossal challenge. Snipes’ Aman generally appears onscreen already standing like a stoic statue as his duster flaps in the wind. He seems equally unable to move his head without it being a slow upward nod that peers from beneath the brim of a hat.
The tragedy of “Gallowwalkers” is that it is a disappointing waste of a decent mythology and genuinely inspired production design. The gunman out for revenge may be a Western genre trope, but the backdrop of a world with sentient undead, demonic pacts, curses, and cults mixed with saloon prostitutes, preachers, and outlaws has myriad possibilities for satisfying entertainment. Except “Gallowwalkers” makes things harder than they need to be with the narrative structure of “Memento” meshed with “Pulp Fiction,” but without a story that fits the format.
Shot on location in Namibia, the African landscape is surprisingly different than desert scenes shot in the American southwest. It is subtle, but the open landscapes of sun-drenched sand dunes have a noticeable feel to them that makes the set design pop. Even as spartan and singular structures posed against desolate backdrops, the rustic camps and buildings appear to be functional locations.
Creature makeups are inventive and effective, particularly a skinless man whose musculature is creatively designed and sculpted. Costumes blend an occasional Mad Max vibe with flowing holy robes and intricate gunslinger gear. For as much time, energy, and money that went into the visual aspects of the film, there are strangely noticeable holes in the budget, however. One thing that stands out is the horrible wig work. That so much effort in production design could be felled by skimping on something like fake hair is really a travesty.
Of course, the greater travesty is that everything admirable about the design and the look of “Gallowwalkers” is in service to a script whose structure never had a chance of turning into an enjoyable story. The actors are dressed the part and placed in a fitting location, ready to deliver the western horror goods. Meanwhile, the story is playing a game of Twister with itself while struggling for an identity as something other than a silly, clustered, and nearly unwatchable mess.
Review Score: 30