Director: Stephen Cognetti
Writer: Stephen Cognetti
Producer: Joe Bandelli
Stars: Vasile Flutur, Jillian Geurts, Joy Shatz, Dustin Austen, Brian David Tracy, Amanda K. Morales, Kyle Ingleman, Adam Schneider, Danny Bellini, Lauren A. Kennedy, Alice Bahlke
Two years after the “Hell House” documentary, a small team of online journalists returns to investigate The Abaddon Hotel.
I wasn’t a big fan of the first “Hell House LLC.” The film teased some strong atmosphere with its labyrinthine location, Halloween haunt backdrop, and occult undertones. But it needed more original oomph to capitalize on that potential. “Hell House LLC’s” better moments evaporated quickly, leaving a lot of underwritten exposition and lackluster “been there, done that” to fill the majority of minutes instead.
Although I stand by it, my “Hell House LLC” review (found here) nevertheless became a rare instance where I retroactively wondered if I might have been unfairly hard on the movie. Confirming my belief that “Hell House LLC” was enthusiastically produced even if it didn’t win me over, writer/director Stephen Cognetti graciously acknowledged my criticism with a personal email. Seldom are indie filmmakers genuinely magnanimous in the face of a negative review. More often they use anonymous online identities to troll critics with retaliatory harassment.
While Cognetti was elevating my respect for him, positive words populating comments sections and IMDb user reviews were pushing my unfavorable opinion further into the minority. Kudos weren’t coming from the usual friends and family shills who ballot stuff homegrown horror with fake praise either. “Hell House LLC” appeared to earn itself a respectable cult following of passionate supporters. Enough to warrant a sequel at any rate.
I thus went into “Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel” not only thinking that the original may have been better than I remembered, but also assuming that the sequel would build over its predecessor’s shortcomings by being better polished, cut, and constructed. This time, I really was wrong.
Disappointingly, “Hell House LLC II” plays like a nickel-and-dime rush job scrabbling to find a story in the editing room instead of having clearly focused goals in mind. The visible effort appears so slapdash and amateurishly acted, it doesn’t even seem like the same production team at all.
“Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel” opens on text explaining, “the following footage was compiled by Russell Wynn of the Wynn Media Group.” We’re told later that Wynn is a tech entrepreneur who has been receiving these Abaddon-related videos anonymously. Save for seeing his name written on a chalkboard of potential victims, Wynn never actually appears in the film. I assume he might be relevant for a possible third movie, yet his mentions here have absolutely no bearing on anything aside from adding one more extraneous piece to an unnecessarily jumbled puzzle.
“Hell House LLC II” then moves to an interview with Wendy Mallet, mother of Abaddon Hotel victim Jackson Mallet, who also isn’t directly connected to the first film. Rather, Jackson is one of several “new” victims who have gone missing in the two years since the faux “Hell House” documentary was released.
“Hell House LLC II” next jumps to local TV newsmagazine “Morning Mysteries.” Hosted by Suzy McCombs, this particular episode features a round table debate regarding what really happened at “Hell House.” Participants include dismissive town official Arnold Tasselman, showboating psychic Brock Davies, and Mitchell Cavanaugh, who was the only documentary crewmember to survive the first film.
Only a dice roll could determine the poorest performer among this quartet. Odd numbers say it’s the actress playing the show’s moderator, who looks about as naturally comfortable in front of a live TV camera as a gazelle in front of a hungry lion. Even numbers say it’s the medium. His smarmy style of speaking, cocked eyebrow over a smile, exaggerated arm motions, and poufy scarf beneath a pea coat establish pretentiousness using every cliché imaginable. These two actors alone instantly nullify any illusion of authenticity to the movie.
What really gets the audience’s goat is continued convolution of concurrent footage. While cutting back to Friday’s episode of “Morning Mysteries” on occasion, the movie’s main timeline features Saturday, when a new trio of investigative journalists convinces Mitchell to take a second swing at the hotel despite it being where several of his colleagues were brutally butchered. Additionally included are jumps to the following Thursday, telegraphing certain outcomes in advance, as well as flashback footage from 2009, maybe meant to rope in characters who were already disposed of in “Hell House LLC.”
Only once does a semi-twist arguably pay off by bouncing back and forth between these different days. Otherwise, there’s no evident benefit from not taking chronology into consideration. I have a hard time envisioning how or why “Hell House LLC II” would have been written nonlinearly on paper. I’m left to believe returning writer/director Stephen Cognetti put the sequel together at least somewhat spontaneously by figuring out what to do with the footage as he went along, resulting in a confused series of events desperately searching for direction.
If acting causes one leg to cringe, and confounding cutting compels the other, you’ll need a third to react to cheap set dressing. Since part of the premise involves the hotel being the site of an abandoned Halloween haunt, dollar store cotton cobwebs can be reasonably forgiven. But sticking out like a grotesquely swollen thumb are LED candles filling half the frame throughout the finale. It’s impossible to sink into the supposed seriousness of the ending’s implications while distracted by the rhythmic flickering of battery-powered lights purchased from Target.
“Hell House LLC II’s” smorgasbord of spooks simply doesn’t gel. Go all in on the satanic backstory while doubling down on insidious subtlety and the sequel’s scare factor would be distinctly dark and unsettling. Mixing in random clowns, ghouls wearing simple makeup, and other one-off oddities compounds the appearance of flinging disparate creeps at a wall without worrying where, or if, they will stick.
If “Hell House LLC’s” sin was not going as far down the right road as it needed, then the sequel’s is not even knowing where that road is. Fans of the first film may feel some of the same vibes here, though even they have to concede that this is a regressive step on several fronts. As far as the possibility of a third movie goes, “Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel” shows the fledgling franchise heading the wrong way in terms of both quality and narrative.
NOTE: There are two mid-credits scenes.
Review Score: 35