Hell House LLC. 2015. Directed & Written by Stephen Cognetti.
Starring Gore Abrams, Alice Bahlke, Danny Bellini, Theodore Bouloukos, Natalie Gee, Jared Hacker, Phil Hess, Ryan Jennifer, Lauren A. Kennedy, Jeb Kreager, Miranda Robbins, Adam Schneider, & Kristin Michelle Taylor.
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
The found footage, faux-documentary sub-genre has run wild in recent years, to the extent the horror industry’s been flooded. It’s a perfectly viable sub-genre, it’s just been destroyed like the slasher sub-genre was particularly during the 1980s. Because, at this point in 2017, the accessibility of making a low-budget found footage movie is right at our fingertips. You can take a bunch of friends out in the woods for a weekend, along with some iPhones, and by the time Monday rolls around you’ve got a little movie!
Naturally, that’s brought us to a point where there are so many found footage flicks that you can’t throw a rock without hitting one; let alone a GOOD one. But they’re out there, indeed, and they can be scary.
Like Hell House LLC, a film which uses the concept of haunted house attractions around Halloween in order to produce a found footage and mockumentary mix that ultimately gives it all a genuine feeling of realness. And isn’t that the ultimate goal of the sub-genre? To suck us into its little world, to make us feel what we’re seeing is real?
The Houses October Built was a fantastic look at the same subject, albeit from a different perspective and wholly in the found footage format. What this film does best is provide genuine scares through the use of expert suspense and tension, the atmosphere chilling from early on. The advantage of the mockumentary format is that Hell House LLC gives us the best of the haunted house attraction plot with the found footage element, on top of adding the mystery and thrill of a faux documentary. Resulting in an engaging story, not just shaky cameras and screaming and a slew of expected the sub-genre’s tropes.
The world of Halloween haunted house attractions is ripe for horror. The Houses October Bult was both engaging and frightening, taking us through the unsuspecting audience’s perspective inside the attractions. Hell House LLC takes us to the other side, from the perspective of a group of friends who put together haunted houses, here, they set it in an old hotel; clearly yielding scary results. The found footage aspect works perfect taking us into the action, but giving us great suspense as we watch the place come together, the eerie events which happen under the group’s collective nose. The use of a possibly supernatural backstory that comes out through the faux documentary offers an intriguing mix; whether the supernatural actually pans out becomes evident by the finale.
Story’s great. The scares are the best, though. The use of the clown mannequin is totally frightening. The moment when it appears then disappears is incredibly upsetting, in the right kind of horror way. This shtick recurs a couple times, to great effect. Worse, the second or third time around it’s more than a single character/camera witnessing the moment, pulling us further into the terror.
More subtle moments make the movie unnerving. Like a strange shot of Sara (Ryan Jennifer Jones) standing in front of a stone statue, quietly spooky. Then the strobe light scene delivers a pang of claustrophobia in the viewer alongside the character (who actually threw up in that take for real). Finally, the events of the haunted house’s opening night alluded to throughout play for us, releasing the tension built up over the course of the film. From that moment on everything descends into chaos. The finale is the icing on a creepy cake, giving the end an additional punch.
The Abaddon hotel here is an actual haunt attraction, previously converted from an old hotel. Like with all great locations, this one transforms the film, making it more interesting and spookier. So many found footage flicks don’t have atmosphere, here that’s just naturally taken care of by the setting. The hotel is a character on its own, akin to the lead villain in another film. This alone gives Hell House LLC fantastic atmosphere, a sense of place. As opposed to a set, the real location adds grim life to the plot, as you can imagine finding yourself in an ageing hotel, walking through its hotel, unaware of its history or what sort of entities, maybe people, are lurking within those walls.
Aside from the atmosphere, the characters and the acting keep the film steady. Found footage, almost more than any other sub-genre of horror, benefits from strong performances. The characters and their relationships here give credibility to the story, making it all feel real. More than the performances, the writing avoids a lot of expected conventions of the found footage sub-genre. For instance, the typical “You’ve ruined us all” aspect as one character’s mistakes seemingly doom the rest, and of course the question of the cameras is solved because everything is being filmed for the haunt.
Moreover, the pacing works on your nerves, as the horror never truly lets up, creeping on the viewer hard. The freaky moments pile up, the corners of your eyes get tired from scanning, waiting for whatever comes next. You expect the terror when it arrives, doesn’t change the fact it’s effective and entirely unnerving.
In the top ten found footage efforts of the 2010s so far. There are so many of these movies dropped on us, because it’s cheap, especially for a studio to pump them out. But even an iPhone puts you in the director’s chair. Hell House LLC, and other films like it, prove that found footage is still very much alive. Some people want to make you believe they sub-genre’s played out. It isn’t, you just have to dig through the shit at times to find the pretty little diamonds.
Hopefully director-writer Stephen Cognetti does another film soon, found footage or not. He’s got a good sense for the pacing and suspense of a horror, as well as the fact he cares about characters. Time and time again indie horror flicks pass over the characterisation for blood, over-the-top nastiness, or some other futile way of trying to fill in the gaps. When all you need are solid characters and some decent actors to bring them alive for the audience.
Hell House LLC is perfect for the Halloween season. There’s nothing better than getting paranoid while watching these friends setup their haunted house attraction, wind blowing outside, the smell of candy in the air. You can always go to a real haunt. Or just turn off the lights, flick this on, and let yourself get creeped out.