Haunted House

Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel

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Eight years after the Hell House LLC tragedy, and the subsequent disappearance of a documentary film crew, the mystery of the Abaddon Hotel remains unsolved. An anonymous tip sent to a journalist claims all the evidence of what happened is hidden inside the hotel. The journalist and her crew, along with the only surviving member of the original documentary crew, decide to go back to the hotel to find the truth. They will have to sneak past police and break in, but the real battle will be getting out.

The highly anticipated sequel to Hell House LLC hit Shudder just in time for the Halloween season. Stephen Cognetti returns as writer and director of this found footage haunted house flick. The sequel is filmed similarly to the first film. There are documentary filmmaker shots, videos from phones and handheld devices, news reports, and interviews. This allows the filmmakers to include multiple different perspectives outside the main cast of characters. The scares are also done in a very similar way. They are subtle, and generally lack jump scares. This makes the film itself terrifying, but the fright factor has a lasting effect even after the film is over. Fans will recognize a couple of the more iconic frightening faces, including the absolutely creepy clown mannequin and the haunting ghost woman.

Unfortunately, there are certain aspects of the plot that make Hell House LLC II less successful than its predecessor. One of my only critical notes in the first one was a few unanswered questions. In a haunting film it is fine to have those, but there were some parts left a little too ambiguous. This film goes in the polar opposite direction. Not only does the plot try to tie up every loose end in this film, but it even goes on to answer the questions I had from the first film. The filmmakers end up putting everything into a neat package that is almost too clean. The film goes into so much explanation that it slows the climax to a crawl, taking any suspense out of the moment. The suspense leading up to that moment makes up for the sudden halt, but the climax still comes across as lackluster.

The performances are a bit of a mixed bag. Vasile Flutur (Far From Here) gives the strongest performance as Mitchell. He is intense, skeptical, but he also strives to find the truth behind the disappearance of his friends. A less enjoyable performance came from Jillian Geurts (The Algebra of Need) as the journalist, Jessica. This is partly due to writing and partly the performance itself. In terms of the writing, Jessica is just a generally unlikeable character because of her unwavering need to get the scoop on the history of the hotel. Geurts’ performance comes across as a bit over-rehearsed and her delivery is sometimes a bit exaggerated. It almost feels like a performance for the stage, which doesn’t fit well with the tone of this film. Kyle Ingleman (Attack of the Slime People) delivers a similar performance to Geurts, but it works better for his role as the psychic, Brock Davies.

One common theme amongst all the characters, perhaps with the exception of Brock Davies, is that the motives behind their actions don’t quite come across. In a found footage film it is so important to convey why these people would put themselves in these situations and film the entire time. The first film did this successfully, but it doesn’t hold up as well in the sequel. Davies can be written off because he is a TV psychic, so communicating with the spirits in the Abaddon Hotel and getting it on film would be huge for his career. As for the others, some of their motivations for going to the hotel make sense, but their reasons for staying and continuing to film are a bit hazy at best.

With the use of simplistic scares the filmmakers wisely went with simple effects as well. As I mentioned before, the eerie clown mannequin makes an appearance in this film. Not only is this the most frightening and simple look, but it is also the source of some of the most spine-chilling scares. There are other makeup looks done for some of the ghosts seen in the hotel that are the same as in the previous film, but they are more visible in Hell House LLC II. This may not have been a wise decision, as I am a firm believer in less is more when showing ghosts/creatures in horror films. The brighter lighting makes it more obvious that these characters look as if they are from a Halloween haunt, but that also lends itself well to idea the of this location being the ultimate haunted house.

Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel has many hits and misses. What works well is the subtle scares, which start earlier in the film than fans saw in its predecessor. It is also great to get some of the answers I was looking for in the first film. What doesn’t work as well is the film’s overall lack of direction. It doesn’t flow quite as well, likely because a lot of effort was put in making everything clear and obvious to the audience. It results in a subdued climax that should have packed more of a punch. Fans who enjoyed the first film will likely be disappointed, but this sequel is still likely to give you chills and make you avoid any abandoned hotels for a while.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

 

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Hell House LLC

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Five years ago several people were killed in a haunted house attraction due to an unknown malfunction. The dead included many patrons as well as most of the crew. Now a documentary team is trying to put the pieces together and discover the truth of what happened that night. When a survivor of that night comes forward with new information the documentary crew decides to go back to the site of the haunted attraction. They soon discover some doors are better left closed.

Hell House LLC seems like it would be just another found footage film. While is doesn’t reinvent the subgenre, it definitely excels at it. The plot is interesting, focusing on a group of friends who build haunted house attractions for Halloween every year. This year the hotel they choose for their attraction has a very dark history. Over time things become more bizarre, leading to the disastrous opening night. This is entertaining enough, but what makes Hell House LLC stand out is the characters, the logic, and the subtle scares (most of which I will discuss later). What I will say now is that one of the most difficult things for a fount footage film to achieve is a reason for the characters to keep filming, even when things have gone horribly wrong. The filmmakers do an excellent job, for the most part, of logically explaining to the audience why the footage continues past when many people would stop. There is only one scene that leaves me with more questions than answers, but it doesn’t disrupt the filming logic.

I had the opportunity to watch this film twice in a very short period of time. The first time I watched it on a streaming service per a recommendation. The second time I watched it after receiving an email from the filmmakers with a screener for the extended director’s cut version. When watching the director’s cut I expected the aforementioned scene to be extended and further explained, but sadly it was not. It strongly hints that there is something more going on beyond what is shown to the audience, but we never get to learn what that is. While both versions of the film are great, I would recommend the extended director’s cut as it provides more character development and shows a bit more of what happened on opening night.

The most important thing I want to say is, despite watching the film two times in roughly two weeks, I was terrified during both viewings. A statement from writer/director Stephen Cognetti said, “My intent for Hell House LLC was to produce a slow burn of subtle, yet building scares. I have never been a fan of jump scares or music aided scares. My favorite type of scares in horror has always been the little things caught in the background that the protagonists are not immediately aware of. I worked to embody these sensibilities in Hell House LLC.” I too prefer the subtle scares in horror films. I can say that Cognetti skillfully achieves his goal, resulting in a truly frightening film. He creates the kind of subtle scares that stick with audiences long after the film has ended.

In a found footage film it is important the characters come across as compelling, and the characters must also have great chemistry. Nothing can ruin a found footage film more quickly than an unlikable cast. Hell House LLC has a cast of characters that are very well acted, and the chemistry between them feels very genuine. While the entire cast is fantastic, there are two standout performances for me. The first is Ryan Jennifer (I’d Kill For You) as the lone female of the group, Sara. Jones perfectly conveys trying to be one of the boys, experiencing fear, and balancing that fear with trying to be supportive of the team. Gore Abrams (Let Me Make You a Martyr) also stands out as Paul. Paul is a bit of a typical stereotype often found in modern horror films; the somewhat perverted friend with a heart of gold. What makes Abrams’ performance so memorable is how genuinely funny and enjoyable his character is. Even while his character is the focus of many scares, Abrams still manages to do or say something that delivers a laugh. Honorable mention goes to the remaining actors who made up the Hell House team; Danny Bellini (The Drifter), Jared Hacker (Pact), and Adam Schneider (Dark Skies).

If you enjoy quality found footage, and find subtle scares to be the most terrifying, then Hell House LLC is the film for you. It is the perfect Halloween horror flick to watch with a group if you want a good scare. There are only a few minor details that could be altered to get rid of one or two unanswered questions. Hell House LLC has compelling characters, chilling scares, and a simple yet interesting story. As someone who has seen this film more than once I can also say the scares hold up on second viewing. If my review has convinced you to see the film, I would suggest putting in the extra effort to see the director’s cut. This film will likely become an annual Halloween must-watch.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

A young nurse gets a new job caring for an elderly horror author. The nurse, who is afraid of everything, is unfamiliar with the author’s work. This includes her most famous book about a woman named Polly. The nurse moves in with her charge to provide around the clock care. As time passes for the nurse living in the elderly woman’s home, it becomes more and more clear there may be someone (or something) else in the home with them.

This is the second film by writer/director Oz Perkins I have seen this year, the first being The Blackcoat’s Daughter. While I loved his previous film, this one left me feeling underwhelmed and unsatisfied. The essential premise is a nurse going to live with an elderly horror author to take care of her. The problem is that this nurse is terrified of everything. She can’t even get through the first chapter of one of the books the horror author wrote. On the first night living in the author’s house the nurse has a small experience with what may be a ghost, but then there aren’t any other happenings for almost a year. There is an interesting idea in this plot. The problem is that the story is underdeveloped, and the primary focus is on the house rather than the characters.

The main issue I have with this film is the writing. While the monologues are beautifully written and interesting, there is just too much dead space throughout the rest of the film. The only character that really has any lines is the nurse, which leaves a lot of time in between any speaking parts. It also means that the main character primarily talks to herself. The film ends up feeling one-dimensional and lacks any true depth to keep the audience interested. Perkins is known for leaving some aspects of his films ambiguous, which worked well in The Blackcoat’s Daughter, but in this film things were a bit too ambiguous. The “why” of what is happening is left unclear, and it felt like hints were scattered throughout the film that never came to a satisfying conclusion. This just adds to the somewhat empty feeling of the film.

One thing Perkins did better with was the style of the film. It felt unique in that much of the film consists of the inner monologue of the lead character. The film was very visually interesting, using light and shadows, as well as some beautiful blurred effects. The set of the house is also gorgeous. It often times feels like the house is its own character during the film, and it is actually one of the more well-developed aspects of the film. This unfortunately seemed to be where all the focus of the filmmaker’s efforts went. The film is quite stunning, but the lack of substance makes me wish this had been made as a short consisting of about thirty minutes as opposed to a feature length film.

Because there were so few speaking parts in the film it is very difficult for me to truly judge the acting. Ruth Wilson (The Affair, The Lone Ranger) starred as the nurse, Lily. I know Wilson is a good actress from her other work, but her performance in this role gave the impression that she didn’t put much effort into it. The way the character is written is partly the problem. The fact she is afraid of everything and spoke like an 80-year-old woman created a very unrealistic character. I couldn’t help but cringe when she said things like “Oh, heavens no.” The character is supposed to be in her late twenties, and as someone that is the same age it is hard to imagine a single person my age who speaks like that (no matter how timid they are). The highlight of Wilson’s performance is the monologue she recites at the beginning of the film, and that is also the highlight of the entire film.

As a whole I am vastly underwhelmed by I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. It is stylish and beautiful, but lacked the substance to make it a complete story. The film is also plagued with unrealistic dialogue and underdeveloped characters. I know Perkins can do amazing work, so I look forward to seeing what he does in the future. This is just a bit of a stumble on his road to becoming a successful writer/directer.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10

The Disappointments Room

A woman and her family move into a decrepit mansion in the countryside after a tragedy. The goal is to spend a year in the quiet rural home while the woman, who is an architect, rebuilds the mansion to its former glory. While going through the house to see what needs to be fixed, the woman finds a strange room in the attic that was not on the floor plan. It doesn’t take long after the room is discovered for strange things to start happening. Is the grieving mother seeing things, or is their new home haunted by something sinister?

While I saw this film several days ago, I didn’t jump to write my review for two reasons: 1. I knew audiences weren’t running to the theaters for this film. 2. This film was so unfortunate that I was dreading writing my review for it. The general idea of this story could have made for a great film. A “disappointments room” is a hidden room in the homes of wealthy people where they would keep their children born with some kind of birth defect. These children would be locked away and kept secret so the family could avoid any embarrassment. This simple idea could have led to an interesting film. Sadly, it did not.

This plot was one of the more convoluted stories I have witnessed in some time. The filmmakers were clearly trying to make it whether the lead was insane or if she was actually seeing ghosts part of the mystery. The problem is that at the end of the film, you still had no idea which one was the truth. The actions of both the lead and the ghosts made absolutely no sense. Consequently, as the screen fades to black, you can’t help but wonder if that was really the ending. There is even a murder shown in the film, and by the time the film is over you’re still unclear as to whether that murder actually happened or not. One aspect that made the plot confusing was the use of flashbacks. Initially, there was some attempt to differentiate flashbacks by using distinct coloring (so you could tell whether it was a flashback from the lead character’s life or the life of the ghosts). However, as the film went on they seemed to stop using any color differentiation, so it was never obvious if things were happening in the past or the present. Also, assuming the ghosts were real, their actions and motivations made no sense. What the ghosts did had me scratching my head, and there was no clear reason why they did these things. The whole story was just a mess of poorly written half-ideas.

The acting in this film wasn’t much better. Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Total Recall) played the architect and mother, Dana. Normally I’m a fan of Beckinsale. It seemed obvious that she was just phoning it in for this film. There was no real commitment to her role, and as the audience you don’t feel any of her emotions (the horrible blonde hair didn’t help much either). Mel Raido (Legend) was difficult to watch as the loving husband, David. His entire time on screen was spent speaking in the kind of voice one uses to soothe a fussy baby, even when is wife was doing some absolutely insane and horrible things. The fact that both of these actors are also British doing American accents was a bit distracting, as neither of them did a great job of holding the accent.

The Disappointments Room could have been an interesting film, but instead it was a befuddled mess with a title that makes for a great pun. The disjointed story is enough to make you want to walk out of the theater. It also tried so hard to be scary, but when you don’t understand what you’re supposed to be afraid of the “scares” fall flat. This film would have had a lower score, but I’m giving it a couple points for 3 reasons. Firstly, I like the idea of a disappointment room, and I hope another filmmaker takes this idea and runs with it. Second, I liked the opening scene. It was funny and unexpectedly adorable. Finally, I like the exposition scene where Dana is learning about what a disappointment room is from a woman who likely would have been in one of those rooms had she been born during that time. Other than those minor details, there were not many redeeming qualities to this film. It was not a film I would recommend to viewers, nor would I ever watch it again myself.

OVERALL RATING: 2/10

The Houses October Built

Every October, various haunted houses and corn mazes open up all over the country. Their sole purpose is to scare the living hell out of you. In this film, a group of childhood friends decide to make a documentary about the scariest, most extreme haunts in the United States. Along their journey they hear humors about one specific haunt that is the most intense scare a person could ever have. As they journey to find this elusive haunt, things start to happen that lead them down a dark path they may not be able to come back from.

The main premise of the film is how back in the day, a basic haunted house where people jumped out at you and said “boo” was enough to scare the pants off most people. I myself am a total wimp. I went to the same haunted corn maze two Halloweens in a row and it scared me to death both times. These days people want the more extreme kind of haunt where the actors go past the point of what may be considered legal in most places. I have even heard stories of haunted houses where you have to sign some kind of waiver before you even go in so that if any physical or mental harm comes to you there can be no legal action taken. While I don’t know if places like this truly exist, it is the kind of place mentioned in the film that these people are dying to experience.

Intermixed within the film are interviews with supposedly real owners and actors at various haunts. The people being interviewed tell stories about extreme things that have happened at haunted houses, even murderers and sex offenders being hired as actors and using the job as a way to find new victims. While I have heard of plenty of crimes committed on Halloween, I’m not sure how valid the claims are that crimes are committed within haunted houses. This does bring up a fear that I believe many people have before entering a haunted house. You know the actors are technically not allowed to touch you, but what if a serial killer really was hired at a haunt and hid the remains of their victims within the sets.

The two aspects mentioned above give you the two extremes. On the one hand, people want something that is so outrageous and horrifying that they will never forget it. On the other hand, there is always the chance that the people in your friendly neighborhood haunted house are much worse than what they appear to be. In that way, this film makes sure that it covers all the potential fears a person may have before entering a haunt. They even show the different kinds of scares you get in various haunted houses and how it has evolved over the years. It starts with your more basic evil clowns and creepy dolls then moves into more shock horror with people being gruesomely tortured before your eyes, culminating in the ultimate scare where you are the victim of an all too real haunt.

Looking beyond the story alone, one of the aspects of this film that made is so believable was the acting. This group of people had such amazing chemistry and genuine reactions when they were going through the haunted houses that it made the entire story that much more believable. The few characters that you see from the haunted houses were great as well. Even the more silent ones, like the iconic porcelain doll, really know how to creep you out. The various masks and makeup that were used on the haunt actors was quite effective as well.

In my opinion, this film did not get as much credit as it deserved. While the ending was a bit lackluster, like so many horror movies, the overall storyline was very interesting. It seems likely that the kind of people that would appreciate this film the most are those that love Halloween and love to be scared. With excellent acting and a fairly unique topic for this fake documentary, it was hard for me to not enjoy the movie. It is the kind of movie that will be a favorite when Halloween comes around each year.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10