Backstory: apparently, the residents of Giselle’s village like to bury people in a mysterious glade, by a woodland lake. This is also where the Wilis are known to gather. Wilis are victims of unrequited love, sometimes called Died Brides. They haunt the glade dressed in bridal gowns and… draperies. These spirits were jilted by their lovers before their wedding day and rise from their graves at night to stalk any man whom they happen upon between midnight and 4 am – which is quite specific in terms of timing. Men dumb enough to venture onto Wili turf will fall under their power and be forced to dance until death from exhaustion. (It does make one wonder why the location of the village cemetery hasn’t been rethought.)
It is after midnight, and Hilarion keeps vigil by Giselle’s grave and mourns her death. A small cross has been placed at the head of her resting spot. As he weeps, the glade fills with Wilis, and he flees the scene.
The Wilis are led by Myrtha, their Queen, who gathers her posse at the burial spot of Giselle, their new companion. Giselle is called from her grave and initiated into the gang. This, in all likelihood, involved a drinking game and a couple of prank calls.
A sound is heard nearby and the Wilis hide in the forest. Albrecht has arrived to lay flowers by Giselle’s cross, and he weeps with guilt over her death. He is attended by his faithful squire, Wilfred. Poor Wilfred knows that his
beloved super-annoying master is in danger given that it’s after midnight, and begs him to leave the glade, but Albrecht refuses to do so because no one listens to anyone in this ballet. So Wilfred leaves, probably saying lots of stuff about Albrecht under his breath.
Suddenly, Albrecht looks up and sees Giselle, more beautiful than ever in Wili form. The Duke wipes away his tears and snot and begs her forgiveness. Giselle forgives him. I mean, he’s told her nothing but lies and mowed her down in the prime of her life, but no biggie, right?
Giselle is compelled to join the rest of the Wilis, and Albrecht desperately follows her, chasing her through the woods as she vanishes and reappears repeatedly. That’s how Wilis flirt. Finally, and most likely bored with his inability to keep up, she takes pity upon him and allows him to join her in a poignant dance. Still with the dancing…
Meanwhile, Hilarion makes a dumbass move and returns to the glade. So, as Giselle and Albrecht are getting reacquainted, the other Wilis have become fully occupied with the chasing of Hilarion around the woods and have got him cornered. They use their magic to force him to dance until he is nearly dead, and then drown him in the lake. I’d feel bad about it, but seriously? Come on, Hilarion.
Next, the Wilis and their Queen to decide deal with the other jackass in their glade. Seeing them coming, and wise to their plan, Giselle tells Albrecht to cling to the little cross on her grave while she stands guard over him. The Queen of the Wilis becomes furious since her magic wand has no power over people clinging to crosses. (It was some sort of wand defect which resulted in a recall the following year.) Thankfully, Myrtha still had absolute power over her Wilis, leaving Giselle unable to disobey her command. Myrtha tells Giselle to lure Albrecht away from the cross with a little dancing. Albrecht is unable to resist Giselle’s rather seductive moves and lets go of the cross like a total doofus. The Wilis then surround Giselle and the Duke of I Don’t Listen and encourage them to get their dance on.
The dancing continues for a long time, and Albrecht starts feeling weak and confused. Myrtha commands Giselle to keep dancing, and Giselle feels crappy because her beloved is becoming exhausted. (Sometimes a great body isn’t an indication of overall fitness.) Giselle tries to sustain Albrecht, but as the night wears on his dancing becomes more and more floppy.
Just as his death seems imminent, the first beams of morning sun conveniently appear. It’s 4 am, and the village’s church clock sounds last call for the Wilis. Daylight destroys the Wilis’ power and the ghostly dancers fade away, returning to their graves.
Giselle’s pure (and completely undeserved) love for Albrecht has countered the vengeful spirit of the Wilis and saves not only the Duke’s life but her own eternal life as well. After bidding a tender farewell to Albrecht, Giselle returns to her grave to rest in peace. As she vanishes from sight, Albrecht finds himself alone. Heartbroken and ashamed, he realizes that Giselle’s love has saved his life, and he lays on the ground feeling pretty bad about himself.
But don’t feel too sorry for him. He’s still got that other fiancée.