Thursday, September 19, 2013

In short: Gallowwalkers (2012)

Here I was starting to write my usual synopsis of Andrew Goth's Gallowwalkers but then I realized that everything I'd write would make the film at hand look at once more directly coherent and more complicated than it actually is. So let's just say this is a movie about an asshole gunman played by notorious rich asshole (is this type-casting?) Wesley Snipes trying to avenge the rape of his (now dead) girlfriend on the gang of Kansa (Kevin Howarth), with the added complication that he'd already slaughtered them once and now has to cope with their undead versions.

The way the film tells its story - and its backstory - via flashbacks and insinuations is of course as heavily inspired by the less direct Spaghetti Westerns as is the asshole nature of its central hero. When you think through everything Snipes's Aman does during the course of the movie, and the way in which he does it, he's really up there with the least pleasant anti-heroes of the genre. One of the film's failings is how little the film seems to realize this; even Aman leaving his raped girlfriend because she is pregnant is not something the film is willing to at least raise an eyebrow at. Which brings us to the film's other big failing, namely its inability to find something less clichéd as an excuse for its hero's violence.

Fortunately, neither characterization, nor motivation nor plot are really what Gallowwalkers seems actually interested in. This is an exercise in weirdness and style as substance (there is no such thing as "style over substance") as pure as anything you'd find in US western cinema. The film was shot in Namibia, and Goth uses the desert for long, starkly composed shots closely inspired by the Leone school of the Spaghetti Western, turning the spaces the characters inhabit as unreal and dream-like as they themselves are. Even the spine-rippings and skinnings (and so on) are on the more dream-like side of gore.

The film is full of curious and strange details, never explained ideas that never quite add up to a full picture but are effective at creating mood exactly because they do not add up. There are many questions connected to the films weirdnesses: why are the religious loons of Enoch's Hammer all bright blonde (yeah, we can speculate, but we cannot know it), why is being undead so bad for the skin the bad guys have to skin the living to keep looking pretty? And why the heck do they still look like themselves in their new skins, except for pigmentation and hair? What is Skullbucket's problem? Where does the film take place, in the Old West or in Namibia?

As regular readers know, I am a complete sucker for this sort of thing, the sort of person who takes Gallowwalkers's rifle-full of weirdness and only ever asks for more. Your mileage may vary.

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