Hell House LLC (2015, dir. Stephen Cognetti) has been making rounds on a few of my social media timelines for about two months now despite being close to a decade old. During this time, I ignored it because I legitimately thought this was a film I'd already seen a few years ago. Although, as my Tumblr timeline started to show me more images and gifs on Hell House LLC I was proven wrong, and I figured whether for good or bad this would become a film that I would look at for the blog. Hell House LLC follows a found footage format surrounding a haunted house tragedy in 2009. In the wake of this tragedy, 15 people were killed and the true events of what happened at the Hell House haunted attraction remained a mystery. That is until reporter Diane Graves (played by Alice Bahlke) gets a hold of the only surviving crew member Sara Havel (played by Ryan Jennifer Jones) for an interview. Here, Sara shares all the documentation of the events leading up to opening night and on opening night itself. This footage, which becomes our primary story, showcases a crew of Sara and four other men, her boyfriend Alex (played by Danny Bellini), Andrew aka Mac (played by Adam Schneider), Tony (played by Jared Hacker), and the cameraman Paul (played by Gore Abrams) as they begin building their annual haunted attraction. However, the abandoned Abaddon Hotel that Alex and Mac have chosen for this year’s attraction has a dark past linked to demonic cults, missing persons, and death.
For being in the found footage genre, the narrative of Hell House LLC manages to bring something new to the table by focusing on a group of young people who have the simple goal of putting together a haunted house for Halloween. At this point, the “haunted house gone wrong” has been played out a handful times, especially as found footage, but I believe Hell House LLC’s narrative is the most effective, believable, and enjoyable of this subgenre that I’ve yet to see. Although I should disclose that currently my only other frame of reference for this type of story in a found footage format is the 2014 film The Houses October Built. I personally like Hell House LLC more because of its focus on the people in charge of the haunted house rather than a group of random haunted house goers. The experience of watching a band of characters with a clear and reasonable purpose for being at a messed up location and their attempts to carry through with their plans despite the disruptions is just a better and more believable set up in my opinion. I also enjoyed that the circumstances for why everything was happening was paranormal and that it wasn’t a “the actors are crazy” set up which can come across as try-hard if not handled properly.
There’s a lot that Hell House LLC does and incorporates as a found footage horror flick which I appreciate. The found footage subgenre of horror can often come off as sloppy and, more times than not, riddled with plot holes. But when it’s pulled off effectively the subgenre can contain some of the most chilling content imaginable. One of the things I believe Hell House LLC does the best is remain (mostly) realistic to how the unfolding events play out. My favorite piece of believability included was the eye witness footage shown in the beginning of the film. Within the film’s narrative, this footage is the only public look anyone has gotten to what happened at the Hell House on opening night because it was posted to YouTube by the person recording. The footage itself is very well shot as it conveys the same emotion, panic, and confusion one would see from a real situation such as this. The video shows the haunted house in its entirety, but as the attendees reach the stairwell to the basement there’s a very large crowd cluttered at the entrance. Those in the basement are pushing and screaming to come back up while those wishing to finish the haunted house are pushing down to get through, and those stuck in the middle are squished and shoved in every direction. It’s chaotic, it’s believable, and it’s very human. This first piece of found footage immediately pulled me in and made me hopeful that I was in for a good movie.
I also really appreciate how Hell House LLC went about scaring the audience. In fact I have a lot of appreciation for any horror movie that doesn’t solely rely on jumpscares and/or ear rape audio to get a cheap scare out of the viewer. There’s only one moment within the film that I would consider a jumpscare and it doesn’t use any type of audio to indicate that it’s happening – in fact, it’s completely silent which makes the viewer more unsettled and, I believe, more on edge for what might happen next. I don’t wish to go into too much detail on the specific scares the film has to offer because, in my mind, the entire reason to watch a horror movie is to get surprised and scared by it. However, I will note that there is a scene that takes place between Paul, Sara, and Mac at 3 in the morning which gave me chills the entire time.
There’s only one plot device which I found has really been grinding my gears as I write this review and that’s how the reveal of what’s in the basement is approached. Throughout the entirety of the film the events that unfolded in the basement on opening night are described as if it’s a life-altering and terrifying event. Sara begins her interview by stating that, “If people knew what really went on inside of that house, it would’ve been hard for them to deal with.” The audience is also given a 9-1-1 call where a girl’s broken dialogue indicates something “-Into the wall” followed by a monstrous roar. Finally, the events were described as so terrifying that one of the survivors committed suicide a few days after. With how much they were hyping up the basement reveal, I knew it was going to end up disappointing and I was right. My highest hopes were that the reveal would have to do with some paranormal monstrosity, like an Eldritch horror of some kind, or even the possibility that the building itself was alive. But unfortunately scripts don’t get workshopped enough so the reveal is not only incredibly confusing but it's handled in a poor manner.
My main aggravation with this is that the film does introduce the use of security cameras only for them to never get utilized, even when the opportunity is prime such as with the basement reveal. There are security cameras in every room except the basement, and the reasoning is that the basement has thick stone walls – so I guess they can’t put a camera down there because of the stone? I think the real reason is what one of my old professors would call “Because movie”, or in other words it’s a reason that’s solely written into the plot for some type of narrative convenience. Unfortunately, not using the security cameras that were introduced is a giant narrative inconvenience. This means when the reveal happens it’s not done so in a clear manner because there’s no stable, reliable security footage to show what really happened. Instead, the audience is met with even more eye witness footage – which Sara just somehow owns with no explanation as to why this eye witness footage wasn’t uncovered before (because movie!). The eye witness footage was great for the opening of the film but it stinks as a revelation to a mystery. The footage is shaky and you can’t see a whole lot outside of the camera being pushed into other people because there’s a large crowd panicking. Instead of being terrified of what was happening I found myself annoyed because I had to rewind the scene about five times, pausing and unpausing, squinting at the screen in an attempt to understand what the film was trying to show me yet to no avail. I think the reveal has to do with a demonic cult and that’s only because it gets a very off-hand mention somewhere towards the middle of the film – which if we’re being honest what’s scarier, a cult or Eldritch monstrosities beyond human comprehension? Nothing that the audience actually wants to know is shown or described in a very clear and reliable way.
However, I also believe that this narrative contains more lore than what the filmmakers were able to fit within an hour and a half of low-budget production. I know the sequel might be terrible, as all movies no matter the genre are likely to run that risk, but I do feel as if it could contain more lore and explanation for this first film. It’s not uncommon for a low-budget production to be highly ambitious but need to cut out information for time and budget sake, then for the sequel to incorporate those missing puzzle pieces of the story. I want to believe that this is what happened with Hell House LLC as there are roots as to why the Abaddon Hotel is cursed but not a substantial amount of information is given to the audience.
Hell House LLC – A Tier
Despite my aggravation towards the basement’s reveal, I was pleasantly surprised by this film as I was expecting a very generic horror movie. What I mean by this is that I was expecting poor acting, an overly edgy story that can’t live up to any promises it makes, and horror mediocracy. Instead, I was left feeling as if I have found a new horror movie I can casually rewatch when the mood strikes me or as Halloween approaches. Hell House LLC is absolutely a film that I would recommend not only to my friends who enjoy horror, but also to friends that aren’t necessarily into scary movies but want something festive for the fall. Similar to one of my favorite Halloween flicks, Trick R Treat, Hell House LLC is one of those films that’s perfect for opening the windows on a cool autumn evening, lighting a pumpkin scented candle, and making some homemade popcorn. It’s cozy and scary. Also, I didn’t mention it within the review but the film does end with a twist that’s pretty unexpected and makes a rewatch more enjoyable as you can begin to point out hints of the twist before it happens.
Hell House LLC is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, AMC +, and YouTube as well as a plethora of free streaming platforms such as Tubi, Crackle, and Vudu.