Studio: Terror Films
Director: Stephen Cognetti
Writer: Stephen Cognetti
Producer: Joe Bandelli
Stars: Danny Bellini, Ryan Jennifer, Gore Abrams, Jared Hacker, Adam Schneider, Alice Bahlke, Jeb Kreager, Lauren A. Kennedy, Theodore Bouloukos, Michayla Dougherty, Phill Hess
A documentarian investigates a mysterious tragedy where multiple deaths occurred at a Halloween haunt in an abandoned hotel.
For a troupe of professional Halloween haunt creators, the five folks behind Hell House sure had thin skin when it came to being scared themselves. While Sara, Alex, Andrew, Paul, and Tony were busy converting an abandoned hotel into a seasonal attraction, the building’s haunted hallways were equally busy moving mannequins slightly and tinkling piano keys. From everyone’s overly asthmatic reactions to this pedestrian paranormal activity, you’d think they saw the mouth of Hell opening to swallow them whole. Maybe it did. What else would anyone expect when setting up shop in a New York burg with the unlikely name of Abaddon?
Identified in “Hell House LLC” as the demon that guards the gateway to Hell, Abaddon is also the Biblical term for a bottomless abyss of destruction. Naming a town after the word would be along the lines of calling your city Lucifer, South Dakota or Ragnarok, Idaho.
Abaddon’s abandoned hotel has the additionally dubious distinction of being built by a supposed cult leader who hanged himself after several guests went missing mysteriously. It’s little wonder then that terror revisited his suicide site on Hell House’s opening night two decades later, inciting mass panic that ended in gruesome deaths authorities still refuse to discuss publicly.
Video journalist Diana Graves aims to get to the bottom of the terrible tragedy. “Hell House LLC” is a faux documentary “found footage” film about what really happened on that fateful night of October 8th, 2009. Until now, guesses were as good as it got. But sole survivor Sara has suddenly resurfaced, and she has the tapes that will finally show the full scope of horror that went on inside Hell House.
Its Halloween haunt setting and footage within footage format come close to separating “Hell House LLC” from the usual shaky cam claptrap of supernatural spooks and camping in cursed woods chills. In actuality, “Hell House LLC” still sticks to the same template as every other haunted building “found footage” investigation, altered only faintly by the pretense of protagonists building an attraction inside an abandoned hotel.
Memorable moments are short. Dread drips from claustrophobic shots of a fire marshal’s worst nightmare as panicked packs of people struggle to escape the confines of a close-quarters basement. “Hell House LLC” has a wide-open window to capture the awful horror of helplessness when caught in a trampling crowd and only ekes out a few such seconds. Go for the throat on this real-life fright instead of recycling creepy clowns and “Hell House LLC” could have put a sharp edge on standard scares.
A lesser issue for the movie is keeping its calendar straight. Someone makes mention of the hotel being closed for 30 years, though the owner died in 1989, a difference of only 20 years. Onscreen text correctly counts down September 8th as being 30 days away from October 8th. Then date stamps suddenly fall out of synch at September 18th, which is somehow now 19 days from opening night instead of 20.
I’ll be first to agree these are inconsequential details many viewers won’t notice. Yet when filmmakers overlook easily correctible errors, they leave an unfortunate impression of careless effort. A film has a responsibility to maintain its own fiction. It shouldn’t be an audience’s burden to forgive flaws in the fantasy and decide what doesn’t matter.
However, “Hell House LLC” is not a lazy effort overall. Other “found footage” films on this tier are content to give three people a GoPro and let them improvise their way into mediocrity. “Hell House LLC” actually calls in a nice spate of extras, a fire truck, an ambulance, and fake newscast frame for a fair bit of production value elevating believability. Characters aren’t written to be particularly interesting, but performances are natural enough to puff some personality into the proceedings.
The movie ultimately lets itself down by not having enough story to keep suspense consistent. The script even cops to this cheat by cutting over key pieces of exposition the thin background clearly has no explanation for. Once more you are given an impression that the filmmakers didn’t have all their i’s dotted before rolling camera, except this time, they confess to it.
“Hell House LLC” is an average “found footage” film whose score falls on the unfavorable side of the midline because there is no outstanding reason to suggest someone see it. Everyone involved seems to be making a good go of it. Their output just doesn’t include a powerful payoff for a bland buildup, or standout setup to balance the same ol’ same ol’ of first-person huffing and puffing over blurry bumps in the night.
Review Score: 45