Sunday, 8 October 2017

Hell House LLC (2015) - Horror Film Review

Another day and another found footage, this time it is the turn of Stephen Cognetti's Hell House LLC which has a cool premise to it. I was actually sent a screener of the extended DVD version of the movie which has around 9 minutes of extra footage which was nice, I don't know what was added over the original but nothing seemed out of place. I often go on about 'new' and 'old' styles of making found footage, and this falls into the old style. The sub genre used to be known for frustrating shaky cam and blurred footage, of which there is some of that here. However the whole film is set out like a documentary with the footage incorporated in as part of this documentary so there is a nice sense of structure that combines well.

Five years after an unexplained event led to the death of a whole bunch of staff and visitors at the opening night at a Halloween haunted house tour set at an abandoned hotel, a film crew decide to make a documentary to explore what really happened (as there was a huge cover up by the local authorities). They manage to locate one of the original staff members; Sara (Ryan Jennifer) who not only gives her version of the story, but provides the crew with the footage the event planners filmed in the run up to opening night which forms the basis of their investigation.

I really enjoyed the style of this film, normally there are a few sentences on a black screen at the start as plausible explanation for why we are seeing found footage, but Hell House LLC goes the extra mile with the whole movie taking place as a produced documentary. I admit for the first five minutes I was almost convinced this was a legitimate show rather than a film. You have interviews with local towns people, experts in the field, and researchers, as well as news bulletins and footage filmed from one of the visitors. This initial first footage works in giving more questions than answers, it is heavily hinted that the horror that unfolded took place in the basement yet that is where the filming ends with the guest getting turned around before seeing anything. This part was also neat in unknowingly to the viewer at that time revealing what happened to staff members that then get much bigger roles in the meat of Hell House LLC.

The found footage aspect as provided by Sara is the main part of the film and takes up a good 3/4 of the 97 minute run time. It introduces us to the creators of the Hell House event and the increasingly spooky goings on they experience as they transform the former hotel into a place of horror in the months leading up to opening night. There is some fun bickering with these characters, not least the main operator of the camera in this film within a film; Paul (Gore Abrams) who is a perpetually horny slime bag who even his friends don't have much respect for. The moments when he is alone talking to the camera somehow give some pity for this guy. Paul is certainly the focal point as much of the film is shown from his (literal) perspective, as such we never really get a good handle on the other characters, other than boss Alex being a bit domineering. Despite Sara being the staff member who becomes involved in the documentary we really don't get to see much of her here. 

I expected the horrific event itself to be the main scary part here, but the build up features far more unnerving moments, even if they are all a riff on the same idea. The main way of making scary moments in Hell House LLC is by slight camera tricks, such as the camera panning past a room quickly with a figure glimpsed, then the camera operator kind of going "what was that?", panning back and nothing being there. There is a recurring sequence of one particularly creepy looking clown dummy that keeps seeming to move from location to location of its main volition, I came to love these moments as it happens enough to give this inanimate object a feeling of identity about it. There was such a well planned ramping up of the staffers concern, by the time it gets to opening night everyone is pretty rattled, this progression felt natural and so more authentic as a story. It was also neat how every now and again the found footage would be paused while the documentary added extra bits of information, one part had the inclusion of a brief history of the hotel before it was closed down and shedded a lot of light on what was going on, another goes on a little tangent about what happened to one of the surviving staff members when they first show up in the footage. The part that used Google street view was a highlight as I have never seen that used in a horror film before!

My desire to see exactly what happened on opening night was what kept me riveted to the movie so when it begins I was pretty excited. It is unfortunate that this is when Hell House LLC decides to devolve into the very worst of the old style of these types of films. Excessive shaky and blurry cam footage, malfunctioning camera screens and pixelation combine to give a huge sense of frustration at not being able to make out what was going on. The footage got so bad that I actually paused the movie thinking my PC was having trouble buffering or something. I had high hopes for this, specially as the whole point of the movie seemed to be the reveal of just what happened so couldn't help feel let down. Another complaint I had plausibility wise is the documentary felt authentic up to a set point, then something happens involving the creators of the whole thing. It then created a problem in just who is making the documentary as it becomes obvious it couldn't be the people who the film tells you are the ones making it, this ripped me out of the immersion somewhat. The ending while pretty fun didn't make sense in the format of the film.

For the most part I really enjoyed this, it is perfectly paced and the scenes around the footage itself were a stroke of genius as it gives structure to what is going on, as well as constantly drip feed hints of what is to come. Horror taking place in a haunted house attraction is also a neat idea as everything already looks naturally creepy when you have horror themed dummies everywhere. I thought the actors were all good in their roles as well which is a big plus point. For me though while I understand the idea of leaving it up to the viewer's imagination it was frustrating to have the pay-off moment be so hampered by negative genre tropes, especially when the camera work up that point was so effective. Still if you like your found footage films this is not going to disappoint you, it is a neat package and has a constant feeling of dread throughout. The Hell House LLC: Director's Cut DVD came out on October 1st, it can be purchased here, the DVD includes a director's commentary as well as behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes, audition tapes and a trailer. 


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