31 by 31 Challenge #19: HELL HOUSE LLC (2015)

@craiggors

It’s no secret in the horror community, and amongst general film fans, that the found footage sub-genre is drastically hit or miss. For every Cloverfield (2008) and Blair Witch Project (1999) there’s a dozen clunkers that waste the time, money, and brain cells of the viewer. Happily, Hell House LLC (2015) is no clunker, and while it may not have reached the exalted heights of REC (2007) or Paranormal Activity (2009), it’s achieved quite a cult status and accompanying fan base in the few short years since it’s release, not to mention two sequels of decent though not matching quality.

The film presents itself as a documentary featuring the recovered footage of a group of haunted attraction employees who opened a haunt, Hell House, in an abandoned hotel in Abaddon, New York, along with accompanying interviews and news clips speculating about the nature of a mysterious tragedy that occurred on opening night of the haunt that resulted in the deaths of several people. Through interviews with Sara (Ryan Jennifer), the only surviving member of the Hell House crew, we come to learn and see of the strange and sinister events that plagued the production of Hell House leading up to opening night, and we begin to piece together how and why everything went so horrifically wrong.

The buildup of tension is masterful in Hell House LLC, reminiscent of Paranormal Activity‘s use of title cards every time night fell and the resultant mounting dread. The use of different footage from varying sources speculating on the cause and nature of the tragedy at Hell House layers the mystery, each of them dropping subtle hints and clues for the audience to piece together an increasingly macabre puzzle. It’s an effective way for the filmmakers to manipulate the audience into feeling exactly what they wish the viewer to feel for any given scene and it works masterfully.

The characters aren’t too far from generic horror stock models, but they do break the mold in that, for the most part, they don’t make cliche or stupid mistakes, a welcome and refreshing change of pace. Though we don’t get to know any of them all that deeply, they’re a charming and likable group and it’s easy to feel for them when the scares start mounting. There are few, if any, jump scares to be found in the film. Director Stephen Cognetti uses a subtle hand to weave in quiet moments of terror that serve to elevate the story and tick up the suspense, a true slow-burn approach absent in much found footage but highly effective here.

It’s all about atmosphere in Hell House LLC, and the film is a perfect capsule of autumn in the northeast as well as the world of Halloween haunts and the community that supports and puts on haunted attractions. In many ways, the movie is more concerned with establishing and maintaining a sinister mood and an atmosphere of dread than with closing narrative loops, and the ending is offered to the audience with gaps to be filled by each individual viewer (or, I suppose, the two sequels that have followed). Those that like their mysteries completely unraveled may find this irritating, but there’s no denying that this is one hell of a tense and entertaining ride.

Hell House LLC

  • 5 – Totally Terrifying
  • 4 – Crazy Creepy
  • 3 – Fairly Frightening
  • 2 – Slightly Scary
  • 1 – Hardly Horror

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