Writer-director Stephen Cognetti’s Hell House LLC injects some invention into genre tropes to deliver a fine post-Paranormal Activity found footage horror film.
Even though Hell House LLC, writer-director Stephen Cognetti’s found footage horror film, sticks closely to the conventions of the genre, its mechanics tried and trusted countless times since The Blair Witch Project, it finds an unsettling contemporary niche. Its premise, inspired by a haunted house attraction-gone-wrong, bears the tragic hallmarks of a smartphone-filmed frenzied dash for safety following a terrorist attack.
Its opening salvos show jerky, handheld amateur footage of terrified thrill-seekers rushing from a building because of an unseen threat. The flashing blue lights of police and paramedics pockmarking shots framed by anguish cries. It is reminiscent of similar real life footage released by news media from acts of terrorism and therefore resonates like few of its genre counterparts.
At the very least, it’s an effective start to a fine found footage horror film. Premiering in 2015 at the Telluride Horror Show and winning Fear Fete Film Festival’s Best Paranormal Film, Hell House LLC is a great example of the idiom “be careful what you wish for” as a group of immersive theatre professionals attempt to set up a scary haunted house attraction only to find very real supernatural malevolence attacking them with, in some cases, their own props.
The footage itself comes from the show’s creators as they document setting up the building for its opening night. This is given a prologue in the form of a journalist investigating the mystery of Hell House’s tragic failure and the as-yet unknown reason for several deaths associated with the attraction following its public unveiling. A woman, one of the show’s surviving crew, presents the journalist with never-before-seen video footage which reveals how Hell House’s creators were experiencing strange goings-on well before the public are invited in.
The film sticks closely to formula, fulfilling expectation which it can be applauded for. This comes with the baggage of cliché – yes, there’s another cellar, and yes, this is where the real bad-ass spirits seem to reside – but the reason why certain elements repeatedly work is because they are inherently frightening. I even liked Hell House’s “killer” clown motif despite this being an overused horror trope.
Pleasingly, Cognetti doesn’t waste the opportunity to utilise an ideal location as the big house from which most of the film takes place becomes a maze of threatening corridors, staircases and rooms. The way in which he builds suspense towards the climax is enlivened by our prior knowledge of those escaping thrill-seekers from opening night. That helps maintain Hell House LLC’s momentum as well as our intrigue, ensuring that every one of its 80-odd minutes is free of dead weight.
Importantly, Cognetti gets under the skin. There’s a scene involving a clown suit that stands out in particular, but the film is peppered with moments that successfully raise the heartrate. You’ll have to bolster your suspension of disbelief a little to forgive some plot contrivances towards Hell House LLC’s finale but the eventual pay-off is satisfyingly unnerving.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Stephen Cognetti
Written by: Stephen Cognetti
Starring: Ryan Jennifer, Danny Bellini, Gore Abrams, Jared Hacker, Adam Schneider, Alice Bahlke
Released: 2016 / Genre: Found Footage Horror
Country: USA / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed Hell House LLC courtesy of video-on-demand service Amazon Prime Video.