Hell House LLC (2015)
Directed By: Stephen Cognetti
Written By: Stephen Cognetti
Produced By: Joe Bandelli
Release Date: November 23rd, 2016
Starring: Gore Abrams, Adam Schneider, Danny Bellini, Jared Hacker, Ryan Jennifer, Lauren A. Kennedy, Phil Hess, Miranda Robbins
The long since abandoned ‘Abbadon Hotel’, is converted into the ultimate Halloween haunted attraction, called ‘Hell House’. On the highly anticipated opening night of the attraction, there was an unexplained malfunction, that resulted in the fatality of fifteen staff and tour goers. Five years later, a documentary team is contacted by one of the surviving staff members of the Hell House opening night. She has come forward with real time footage of the massacre, which was never handed into the police. With the new footage in tow, we will travel back to the scene of the tragedy, to once and for all find out what really happened.
This found footage feature, is one of the best constructed, written, directed, and genuinely scary films I’ve seen all year. By looking at the synopsis, you would be forgiven for thinking that this film is the same, tired, haunted house story, that has been done a million times, and follows the same formula that made Grave Encounters a cult favourite.
It gives me great joy to tell you, that this independent horror movie, has a director with the power of free thought. This allows the story to follow his intended path, and have its own story, and make its own rules, with the only restriction being his imagination and his budget. Believe me when I say, that veering off the found footage- beaten path, and being bold, has paid off immensely.
Prior to ‘Hell House LLC’, writer/director Stephen Cognetti, had only made 3 short films, that were low-budget, cop/crime comedies. This is Cognetti’s first feature film and first step into the world of horror. Coupled with a young, enthusiastic cast, the film gives a breath of fresh air, to a format, and sub-genre, that can often be tiresome and repetitive. The pacing throughout the film really works. The way that it eases you in, allows for you to come to grips with the characters, and to get a proper feel for, and digest all the important information being given to you, that builds the scene for the film you’re about to watch.
Throughout, the build up of tension and suspense is exquisite. Whatever evil is lurking, wants to drag the group of friends, kicking and literally screaming, to that point where absolute terror, turns into complete insanity. We see their reality spin clean off of its axis, as the group struggle to keep their heads, in what will become a fight for their lives. You’ll be sat on the edge of your seat, and driven into a nail biting frenzy. The atmosphere of suspense in the film, is reminiscent of techniques used to perfection, by the likes of John Carpenter. That kind of filmmaking is something that can’t be taught. It’s instinct.
The film begins with a happy feeling, as our five protagonists, Paul, Alex, Tony, Andrew, and Sara, get ready to begin their new venture, in turning an abandoned hotel, into a leading haunted house attraction in time for Halloween. Shortly after getting there, they learn of a previous owner from decades before, who had hung himself in the dining room of the hotel. He practised the black arts and saw himself as a vessel for the word of Satan. He was using the basement for occult meetings, and much of the paraphernalia used, was still laying around, as well as satanic artwork and pentagrams drawn on the walls.
After the first few weeks, the original team of five, are joined by two new staff, in male actor Joey, and female actor Melissa. Over a few drinks, they all sit and discuss their plans for the further building of the attraction. This kind of social interaction further adds to the character development, and helps ease Joey and Melissa into the film. At this point, it creates the standpoint of high morale and camaraderie in the group.
In the days and weeks that follow, there is activity of a bizarre, and hard to explain nature. Suddenly, we see the atmosphere amongst the friends start to change for the worst. The cracks in the walls and leaky roof, start to seep in to the once strong friendships within the group. This allows for further character development, to be integrated effortlessly into the film. Only this time, they’re different, more emotional, and temperamental sides of the characters.
That old building that once seemed so big, is becoming very claustrophobic.
Further unexplainable, and now frightening activity, is causing tensions to run high. Friendships have fully splintered, as nasty thoughts sink in, that someone, or something, is being so cruel and vulgar, as to take joy in feeding on their fears, and deliberately making them feel vulnerable. This is of course, until they catch something happening on camera, that could not have been done by anyone in the group. They find themselves arriving at the horrible realisation, that they’re not alone. For the now tired and weary ‘unhappy campers’, feelings of doubt about opening the doors to the public start to niggle, as Hell House starts living up to its name. The walls are starting to close in on the unlucky group.
There is an impending feeling of doom that you can’t shake off. You’ll find yourself, genuinely fearing for the group, and what on earth could possibly happen next to these poor souls. You know you’re about to find out very shortly, and as much as you want to watch, you can’t bare to see them come to harm.
The opening night arrives, and seeing the actual events in full, from the viewpoint of the staff, does not disappoint. There is no anti-climax. For the staff of Hell House, the aeroplane, is about to crash into the mountain, with devastating effects. This is the point where I will discuss the use of practical effects. Quite simply put, they’re brilliant. Being a found footage film, it would be such a school boy error to have gone down the route of CGI. The film has been outstanding up to this point, so it would have such a cheap blow, to have seen something so ridiculous.
The main event features blood, screaming, clowns, druids with big swords, and lots of death. They’re all uninvited, but they’re bad ass perpetrators, and make their presence known when they come to crash the party.
It looks, sounds and feels like hell, and everything in it, is literally breaking loose. Nobody can do anything to stop it. Trying to fight this would be like trying to fight fire with a chocolate axe. In narrow, cramped, maze of hallways in Hell House, the only thing to do, is run, as fast as possible, and hope that the massive crowd of people in front of you, has the same idea. What is unfolding, is a scene of carnage, terror and mayhem.
The staff of Hell House can’t be staff anymore and worry about the lives of everyone in the building. Self preservation is key. They too are under siege, and you the viewer, can feel their full fear through the screen. If you’re easily frightened or of weak stomach, you’re going to want to hide behind a pillow, or find yourself facing many sleepless nights. (You have been warned).
The film will cut back to the safety of the documentary team, and tentatively, you’ll put your cushion down, and attempt to draw breath. This would be a mistake. If you think you’ve seen the ending, and you can rest until the credits, you’re wrong. Like every great horror film, ever made, the villain/evil entity always has one last scare, and/or a big, juicy twist.
The surviving staff member telling the story, brings the found footage element, showing the arrival at hell house, through to the opening night massacre, with cuts to interview questions from the documentary team. Added to that, there are the ‘Real Life’ interviews, with viewpoints of journalists/investigative reporters, police/fire crew, and on site photographers. This really adds to the film and makes it more of a spectacle. As silly as this may sound, it adds a proper feel of realism.
For a novice director and cast, this film throughout, is incredibly well made and acted. I have to say, that I was genuinely… happily surprised. In saying that, if it was a seasoned director and cast, I’d say exactly the same thing. There is a lot of talent being showcased in this film, and they should all be very proud of what they’ve made.
I’ll be sure to be following the future work of this director, to see what he comes up with next. Hopefully another horror. Hell House 2 perhaps? We should be so lucky.