Review: Hell House LLC (2016)
The found footage style of film-making is finally starting to die out. It’s holding on for dear life, but it’s less common now than it was even a year ago. Without Paranormal Activity to fuel the craze, movie watchers are returning to their roots and embracing narrative story-telling again. This makes me happy. Finding a decent found footage feature on any catalogue is like looking for a needle in a haystack. A good, and I mean good, title in this category is nearly impossible to find unless you’re The Blair Witch Project, The Poughkeepsie Tapes or REC. With this all in mind, let me introduce you to Hell House LLC. I’m going to say right here and right now that Hell House LLC is going to be the last great found footage film we see for a long time. Here’s why.
Writer/director Stephen Cognetti created a piece of horror inception with a documentary within a documentary. Serving as his directorial debut, Hell House LLCchronicles a documentary team as they investigate a small town’s biggest story – an abandoned hotel that served as a Halloween fun-house, which was the location of a huge, unsolved massacre in 2009. The documentary team is getting expert and eyewitness testimony, pictures and amateur video from that night in October, but they aren’t prepared to view the personal tapes from one of the only survivors – one of the attraction’s workers who experienced the horror from start to finish. What she has on those tapes leads them to new discoveries hidden by the police and a world of terror they never knew existed.
I’ve always been extremely critical of found footage features because, in my opinion, I think the majority of film-makers who use this style do so to skip over weeks of pre-production and make a lazy product that they’ll mis-market to fans. I was thrilled when I saw that Hell House LLC didn’t lend itself to my usual complaints and had a high production value. The abandoned location was an amazing choice – so many rooms that could be concealing something evil. Preparing said location as a Halloween fun-house obviously required ours of set decorating and planning. It’s literally a maze filled with cob webs, props and flashing lights. It must have been difficult for the cast and crew to find their way around, and it’s incredible that the lighting and audio are flawless considering all that was happening around the camera. This is what movie magic is all about. This is what found footage should be like. I high class production that gives you the vibes that it could be real, that you could be witnessing someone’s last moments as they happened. One cannot survive without the other in this style and Hell House LLC delivers, again, the most polished and produced found footage film in years. It’s the step above the rest in production design alone.
That’s before we even get to the scares. And there are a whole lot of those. The “bedroom mattress scene” and the “clown manikin scene” were two of the creepiest scenes of horror cinema that I’ve seen this year. They both made the hair on my neck stand straight up and gave off a startling sense of claustrophobia and anxiety. Stephen Cognetti is officially on my directors to watch list and he firmly steps into place as a future master of horror with these scenes and all of Hell House LLC. The film relies on mystery and suspense to scare you and it works. I, embarrassingly, covered my eyes TWICE while watching this indie horror flick and I haven’t done that since I was in elementary school. Hell House LLC is guaranteed to make you cover your eyes at least once. It’s genius in that, like The Blair Witch Project, you don’t get a glimpse at the evil until the very end of the movie. There’s a very primal fear of not knowing what’s attacking you and why and that’s going to disturb you here. You’re going to be so disturbed, in fact, that you’ll watch the whole thing in complete silence, fearing what’s about to come next. Anyone can make a horror film, but few people can make something that’s actually scary. This is scary.
I know I used the words “in years” a lot during this review, but Hell House LLC has raised the bar on found footage flicks and set it to a place where I’ve found respect for it again. Danny Bellini, Ryan Jennifer, Gore Abrams, Jared Hacker, Adam Schneider, Kristin Michelle Taylor, Lauren A. Kennedy, Jeb Kreager, Miranda Robbins and Theodore Bouloukos star in a horror-thriller that plays with your mind and makes your pulse race. It has tremendous re-watchability, so I highly recommend you buy a DVD copy in early 2017. I know I will be! If you can’t wait that long, this chilling and unnerving documentary is also available on all VOD outlets. Check it out. Now. Final Score: 8.75 out of 10.