Hell House LLC is a found footage horror movie that tells the tale of a tragic event where multiple tour goers and crew are killed while running a haunted house at Halloween. Hell House LLC is told from the perspective of a new documentary crew who are determined to find out what really happened 5 years ago.
Written and directed by Stephen Cognetti, Hell House manages to do what so, so may found footage films fail miserably at. It manages to build scares through tension and suspense. Of course there isn’t really anything unique on offer, but what is shown is done really well. The plot is pretty straightforward and follows the typical found footage style. We jump straight into the film with video camera footage of the house and a message that informs you “that the events you are about to see form part of a documentary”. We aren’t, obviously, this is a work of fiction. But a good one.
Hell House is shot like a documentary with the film made up of many different components. There are interviews with people local to the tragedy and a member of the Hell House crew. There are mock news bulletins about the events and tons of footage filmed by the Hell House crew in preparation for their night. Most importantly, there is actual footage of the event itself.
So what exactly is Hell House? Well, Hell House LLC is a company owned by Alex (Danny Bellini). They basically tour around the New York area and put on haunted house events. Nothing shoddy either, a location is found and then kitted out with special effects, actors, décor before the paying public come flocking and part with their cash in return for being scared. All that work takes time and crew.
Working with Alex are a collection of friends and his girlfriend Sara (Ryan Jennifer). Paul (Gore Abrams), Tony (Jared Hacker) and Andrew (Adam Schneider) are the rest of the core crew. All with jobs to do ranging from electrics to make up but also, in charge of filming all preparation in the build up to the event. Something Alex demands so that they can review it and improve on each subsequent event. Thus providing a feasible reason for the footage in the first place.
This year, Alex has found an abandoned hotel in a fictional town called Abbadon, New York. We are informed it is 43 days before the event as we meet the team. They are quite the group and really make the film. They are all very relatable and believable as they joke around at first, have a few beers, start to work etc.. The crew make us aware that this house is in a worse state than any they have had to deal with though Alex is optimistic and encourages them to push on. The first sign of something being a little off comes when they explore the house and head to the basement. When they get there they find a creepy room covered in pentagrams and bibles strewn all over the floor.
Ever the optimists, they treat it as a good thing – a room already decorated almost. As time progresses we learn a little bit about the back story of the house and the crazed cult that apparently operated from there which starts to make sense of the little things like the basement. As the footage of the team setting up Hell House continues, we occasionally slip forward to current time where a new documentary crew are interviewing Sara and occasionally it slips to news bulletins of disaster happening. It works like this because it adds this sense of impending doom, knowing something is soon going to go horribly wrong and even knowing Sara will survive.
Time moves on and the crew work away and then things move as expected. Events start to take place within the house and some of them are genuinely fucking creepy. So much of this works because they are setting up a haunted house. This means the house is full of props perfectly suited for the odd move or noise to creep you out. From a moving mannequin and yep, it’s a clown, to an organ playing itself, bit by bit the group of friends are toyed with and terrified until their once tight friendship is hanging by a thread. Still they persevere though and as the night goes ahead, tragedy strikes when the eager visitors and crew alike find themselves locked in a haunted house that is doing the haunting itself.
Hell House LLC is a really good film. It is filmed so well that you can forget that it is found footage. They avoid too much of the dizzyingly bad camera angles and momentum issues and manage to make the filming look believable but like it is done by someone who knows how to hold a camera. That is also helped by the premise of the film. Being set up for a haunted house, there are also fixed safety cameras in each room which are obviously steady. We even get a head camera run through of the house which is the only one that comes close to be vomit inducing.
In regards to scares, yes, there are jump scares, but not too many. The film certainly doesn’t depend on them to create fear. Instead the majority of the film is used to build suspense. To add atmosphere, and to make us care about the characters enough to worry about them. When the scares do come, many of them are genuinely scary. The mannequin is fucking horrid. Seriously, creepy, just appearing randomly behind somebody. Camera pans away, then when it pans back, the head has turned. That sort of thing but done with class. The basement itself is a scary room and the shot of the stairs leading down to it? Well, there is no way I would be going down there.
The acting is superb throughout as well. I have read in many places that there is no stand out character but instead just a team of people all pulling together in the right direction. I agree completely with that. They smashed it. Even some secondary characters that come in part way through the film play their part admirably, in particular Melissa (Lauren A Kennedy).
With so many positives, it seems unfair to point out the negatives but they are there. The biggest one is the unexpected twist at the end. Unexpected may sound good but it is also completely unnecessary. The film was made, the film was done. I didn’t need the “one more time” bit. I don’t want to spoil it but you will know what I mean if you watch it. This might be a personal taste thing. I know a few others who have watched the movie and love the twist. Just for me, a brilliant film was finished and stretching it on added a little silliness that detracts from the whole movie.
Also, there are a couple, rare, but definitely there, moments where you can hear background music. This happens in scenes where there shouldn’t be any and is used to enhance the feeling and suspense of the scene. It works in that regard but remember this is a mockumentary. Where is this music coming from? It makes no sense and is a pretty glaring error really.
However, those negatives aside, Hell House LLC is well worth watching. Even if you aren’t a fan of found footage, this is just a good horror film. There is a load of suspense and some genuinely scary moments. Hells House laughs in the face of all that is bad in found footage and looks to make things right. It succeeds and is definitely one of the best found footage films I have ever seen.
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Hells House LLC (2016)
The Final Score - 8/10