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Film Review: Hell House LLC (2015)

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SYNOPSIS:

The opening night of a haunted house taking place in an abandoned hotel, a tragedy occurs. Several years later, with the help of a convenient if not suspicious, amount of found footage, a documentary crew attempts to piece together the events of that night.

REVIEW:

Director: Stephen Cognetti
Starring: Gore Abrams, Danny Bellini, Ryan Jennifer, Jared Hacker, Adam Schneider

Found footage isn’t a genre steeped in history. The Blair Witch Project is a mere 17 years old at this point. In this short amount of time, the genre has yet to experience any teenage rebellion in its teen years. Instead it has found several tropes that appear in most of the genre’s films. They’re lighthouses in the night that keep you from running into a cliff of actual suspense. Many directors find their first features in horror, due to this safety net.

It starts with a haphazard reasoning for needing to be recording an entire experience from start to finish. A suspected nanny stealing so the characters bug their home. A weirdo who tells everyone he’s recording for posterity but is really just a creep. Mix in a good helping of cringe inducing dialogue. Young people candidly speaking in a way no one has ever spoken before, like an alien trying to fit into high school. Throw in heaps of exposition into pained conversations.

There will be a bulk of shots where everything is very still and unexpected movement will clue us to an ethereal presence. Finally, it will have a vague ending, the camera falling to the floor, our proxy body in this world now silent, denoting a tragic end but not a satisfactory one.

Hell House LLC has all of these tropes. It builds on them, successfully for the most part, to build a claustrophobic and tense film. Sure, there’s the question of why a haunted house with no moving props takes six people a month to set-up. Or why those six people have to actually live in the abandoned hotel while doing it. I can look past all this; it’s all part of the lopsided logic of modern horror movies. Most amongst us, even the least imaginative, have had the fear in the pit of our stomachs that the haunted house we’re walking through may actually be real.

The film opens with the establishment of a tragedy occurring several years prior. Slightly outside of the average found footage movie it features local journalists in talking head interviews describing what they know of the events. There are local news reports and a video uploaded to YouTube by someone attending the opening night. This footage is all quick snippets to give a general sense of the events but no specifics. Finally to explain the bulk of the movie a survivor of the night, Sarah, reveals she’s got a big bag of (you guessed it) found footage, filmed by the people who put on the event.

The setting is an abandoned hotel not so subtlety called the Abaddon with seemingly endless rooms and blind corners. As they tour the house for the first time, the team of haunted house creators find pre-existing Satanic symbols all over the basement. This is taken as a sure sign that something evil is in the house. I would have taken it as a sign that some of the local kids love heavy metal and breaking rules.
While the house is being turned from a creepy, run-down, derelict building into an intentional creepy, run-down, derelict building, strange events start unfolding. A clown, who was not supposed to move suddenly, does, or a shrouded figure appears in a doorway. Here at least Hell House LLC has a very standard escalation of events. The jump scares are handled with a deft hand, but you can only do so much within the films premise.

The opening of the haunted house takes place on October 8th, which happens to be my birthday so now at least two tragedies have occurred on that date. Like many other found footage film, this one ends with a badly lit, incredibly shaky, very unclear ending. Not to say it’s ineffective, it works, and pieced together with the talking head and news footage at the beginning it paints a pretty clear picture of what happened.

Hell House LLC is a slice of haunted house nostalgia wrapped up in a warm blanket of jump scares. I love haunted houses; they’re a pleasant piece of my teenage years, one untainted by ever-growing cynicism. Generally speaking, most of the people reading this are going to be fans of this sort of scenario, whether it’s a haunted hayride, an abandoned prison, or an upstate New York hotel. For those, I’d recommend Hell House LLC. The few that want a higher production value, or broader storytelling, I’ve heard they’re making Paranormal Activity: The Marky Marked and the Funky Bunch Ones, which may be more their speed, or just an excuse for me to make that joke.

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