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The Hell House LLC duology

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I’ve never found the found footage genre too compelling. More often than not, no matter what the plot, you ’re served a shaky camera filming occasional glimpses of out of focus apparitions and incoherent yelling. The Hell House LLC duology doesn’t stray far from the formula, but, for whatever reason, both movies work up to a point.

Set in upstate New York, the story revolves around an abandoned hotel, purchased by a group of young entrepreneurs aiming to establish a haunted Halloween house. The first movie kicks off opening night when tragedy strikes, and fifteen people — including all but one staffer — die. From there out, the story focuses on a documentary crew digging into the event, aided by the surviving crew member.

Does all of this sound familiar, even if you haven’t watched the movies? Of course it does, because that is how all of these found footage films go. The only differentiator is that writer/director Stephen Cognetti sets it up a whole lot better than most.

The characters here are both likable and believable, and for the most part, they stray past the genre’s tropes du jour. They aren’t just hapless teens running around a random haunted house on a dare; instead, they are theater professionals looking to set up a legitimate business. The crew is good at its jobs, and the clown mannequins they design are creepy. When things start going down, they have a simple and believable reason to ignore them and push on: the very human threat of bankruptcy.

Both movies are creepy. I’m sure you already think you know what the deal will be with those aforementioned clowns, but the films play it smarter than that. There certainly are the expected out of focus apparitions in the background tricks, but often there are some clever twists to them. A lot of Hell House LLC’s strengths play on keeping the cards close to the chest, and Cognetti is presumably a talented poker player.

A lot of the praise heaped on the first movie can be applied to its sequel. The Abaddon Hotel, as it is dubbed, follows yet another documentary team trying to uncover what happened to the original documentary crew. Up until the last fifteen minutes, I’d say the quality holds up perfectly well. Then, as these things too often go, Cognetti tries to over-explain the last two and a half hours in a way he had little reason to do. The two movies managed not to fall too far into the found footage trap up until then, so that’s a bit of a bummer. A slow unraveling of the plot worked well for the majority of the two movies, and I question if the planned third movie will have much to offer at this point.

A disappointing ending shouldn’t keep you from watching the movies1, as the journey is a creepy one. The duology has amassed a relatively sizable cult following, and I can see why. Found footage films rarely keep me interested for too long, but Hell House LLC captivated me enough to watch the sequel.

Bonus! Read a downright tantalizing review of Mr. Jones, another rare found footage gem.

1 In fact, the only thing that might stop you from watching The Abaddon Hotel is that it’s a Shudder exclusive, but really, if you like the good things in life, you should already have Shudder in your life.

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