Director – Stephen Cognetti
Cast – Gore Abrams, Alice Bahlke, Danny Bellini, Theodore Bouloukos, Natalie Gee, Jared Hacker, Phil Hess, Ryan Jennifer Jones, Lauren A. Kennedy, Jeb Kreager, Miranda Robbins
Release Year – 2016
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Hell House LLC is a found footage film I had to check out for this Halloween season. Haunted house attractions have popped up across the country in the last 15 or so years. Because of this, viewing a horror film centering around such attractions was an opportunity I could not pass up. This is writer/director Stephen Cognetti’s debut film, and it is a positive entry into the found-footage sub-genre. Its interesting premise kept me engaged during the slower parts, and once it gets going it really gets going. As with the majority of found footage films these days, I wanted a bit more horror in the end.
On October 8th of 2009 Hell House opened its doors for the company’s annual Halloween attraction. Usually in New York City, they decided to stage their event at an abandoned hotel in the small rural town of Adabbon, New York. By the end of the night, 15 guests and staff would lose their lives in an event that still cannot be explained five years later. A documentary crew led by producer Diane Graves has embarked on investigating the case further. They come across startling evidence when a reporter defies a gag order and shows them photos from the crime scene. These photos show that this could not have been a “gas leak” like the authorities say, but something much more sinister. Their break comes when the only survivor of the Hell House crew comes forward with the home videos they made leading up to the events of that night. The tapes the viewer will witness have never been shown to authorities, and display acts of violence that cannot be explained.
How could anyone not be interested in a plot like that? The film kicks off with the documentary crew delving into the conspiracy behind what happened that night. Thanks to a grainy Youtube video posted from within the hotel, the crew and the public are able to see that something awry occurred in the basement, but they cannot tell what it is. This is what attracted the reporter to break into the phone and take photos that do not match up with the story the authorities gave them. We are treated to the usual mockumentary template, with the crew interviewing locals familiar with the case. It isn’t until the lone Hell House crew survivor, Sarah Havel, agrees to appear on camera and hands them the tapes that things begin to move.
The tapes provided document the 45 days prior to the opening of Hell House. We start with the crew, Alex, Sarah, Mac, Tony, and Paul, on the road towards their new location. This hotel has been abandoned for quite some time, and lacks electricity. They will need all 45 days to prep the hotel for the big opening night. To save costs, the crew is forced to sleep in this hotel, and from day one they begin to experience a strange phenomenon. Inanimate objects are moving, and doing so in an antagonistic fashion. They brush this aside at first, but conflict arises when things get so out of hand that continuing what they are doing leaves them in fear for their lives. This horror does not manifest until about 40 minutes in, and that is when the film began to grip me. Prior to that I was only mildly interested in the story. I wanted more horror and then I got it. From then on out the horror grows insidiously until the big revelation comes through. Will questions be answered, or will what was caught on film only leave you with more? Watch it.
The direction from Stephen Cognetti is positive, delivering good horror when it mattered. I admit that I was not that into the film at first. The “locals” the documentary crew was interviewing did not sell me, and that lead me to not take things as seriously as I wanted to. It wasn’t until the inanimate horror started kicking in that my interest peaked. These scenes provided me with genuine spooks. I liked the look of the antagonists, and their execution was dead-on. The fear from the actors felt real, and given they shot in an actual abandoned hotel maybe they did not have to do much acting. This is a solid debut for Cognetti. I hope to see more from him in the future, especially if it involves inanimate horror.
Overall, Hell House LLC is a worthwhile addition to the found-footage sub-genre. Essentially blending two found-footage perspectives into one film, this offers a bit of a fresh take for such films.
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