Found footage films in hardcore horror circles are typically known for cheap thrills and load noises while nothing actually happens. While the victims scream and run from unseen forces throughout nauseously jarring camerawork, you may get lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the malicious antagonist. Stephen Cognetti’s 2015 first full feature directorial, Hell House LLC, raises the found footage bar. delivering the type of film the horror community has been waiting for since the original, groundbreaking Grave Encounters (2011).
Five years ago, the unexplained haunted house tour tragedy of Hell House left multiple people dead and injured on opening night. Explained away by authorities as a malfunction, many questions remain surrounding the night’s chaotic events. Setting out to uncover the truth, a documentary film crew returns to the scene. With little to go on other than a leaked YouTube video and a 911 call, the documentarians are left with several debunked theories, creepy rumors and speculation. That is, until original Hell House crewmember Sara Havel (Ryan Jennifer Jones) reaches out, agreeing to an interview where she hands over tapes documenting Hell House’s conception and development.
The chilling events that unfold follow Sara and her four friends during their stay at the Abaddon Hotel as they transform the abandoned building into their seasonal haunted attraction. Not only is this a first time location out of the city for their annual Hell House haunt, but it’s also the first time they are forced to stay on-site during development due to the remote location. During the weeks of the Hell House transformation leading up to opening night, it becomes clear that something very real from the Abaddon Hotel’s dark past still haunts the premises.
While most found footage films are comprised with drawn out character development, some bumps in the night, and a climactic camera fall, Hell House LLC is captivating from the start. Beginning with interview clips and old broadcast news coverage of emergency responders to the night of the incident, realistic mystery builds around the Hell House tragedy. When the film segues into a recording from a Hell House tour goer, we’re offered a glimpse into the chaos that unfolded. However, being at the tail end of the crowd, the recording falls short in showing the cause of the terror-stricken panic.
Where an overabundance of intro scenes can become muddled, cause confusion and leave a film dead in the water before it actually takes off, Hell House LLC doesn’t linger for long. Having built just enough backstory and mystery, the film introduces Sara with an interview before showing the tapes recorded by the Hell House crew to document the days they spent creating this haunt. To help the film’s flow while adding to the mockumentary, interviews are spaced throughout the film to offer further backstory of the Hell House crewmembers and the Abaddon Hotel itself.
Rather than offering an abundance of played out simplicity to build suspense before a disappointing, anticlimactic ending, Hell House LLC wastes no time with shadowy glimpses of the film’s antagonist. As activity increases, entire rooms change, characters exhibit odd behavior, and a clown mannequin from Hell stalks the crew as dark forces make themselves known. Despite the warning signs, the crew opens their haunt that becomes too real for the unsuspecting tour goers. As we finally see the Hell House tragedy unfold while on the edge of our seats, the film offers up a twist with further shock and surprise.
With a unique premise, outstanding cast performances and great editing, Hell House LLC offers up plenty of chills rolled into a creepy story with an escalating climactic plot paired with a twist that does not disappoint. This feature not only earned 6.3/10 stars on IMDb, but it suspends disbelief enough for you to be asking Google if this is loosely based on actual events. Whether you are a fan of found footage or haunted house Halloween season, this is a gem currently streaming on Amazon Prime that is not to be missed.