October 8, 2009: Hell House, a new Haunted Attraction in upstate New York, opens its doors and fifteen people die.
A documentary film crew, using a mix of interviews, archival footage, and new material supplied by the only surviving staff member, attempt to piece together what happened on that tragic night.
There were at least two moments, at the very least, that made me scream and cover my eyes. I cannot recall the last time a movie managed to get that much of a visceral of reaction from me. Not as an adult, at least.
Yes, there have been times when I have averted my gaze, even covered my eyes, in anticipation of a jump scare I knew was about to happen. I do that during a lot of James Wan's horror movies. I have also closed my eyes to avoid watching something gross, or traumatic, happen on screen.
There have also been times when I have been made to gasp and/or squeak. All those times I burst out laughing a moment later. Because - being a life long horror fan - I take delight when a scare is delivered well enough to work.
The difference here, with Hell House LLC, is that, during the moments that made me scream and cover my eyes, I did not laugh all that much afterwards. If I did, it was very nervous laughter, because the scares in this movie managed to make some deep cuts and shake me up on a primal level.
Now comes the part of the review where I remind my readers (hi mom, hi dad) that my reactions are, of course, subjective. What gets under my skin, what scares me, may not (or will not) be that same things that get under your skin, or scare you.
But Hell House LLC got under my skin and, I repeat, managed to scare the hell out of me. Again, not hyperbole. That was my actual first reaction to the movie. Will it be yours? I have no way of knowing. I can only recommend you check it out, to see what kind of reaction the movie gets out of you.
Unless you're afraid of clowns. Then do not watch this movie, at all.
Perhaps it worked so well for me because of the smart and refreshing way writer/director Stephen Cognetti used the found footage conceit. Hell House LLC is presented as if it were a completed documentary, one that had been made by real (albeit young, inexperienced) filmmakers, about an actual event.
His doing this means that all the irritating, nitpicking questions that plague found footage movies (i.e. How, or why, does this footage even exist? Who found this footage? Who edited it together, and why? How and why did it get a commercial release?) are addressed and answered in the narrative itself. I loved that.
Because Cognetti makes Hell House LLC look and feel like a real documentary, it allows him to ground the film with a certain level of realism. It is upon this foundation he ignites a delightfully dreadful slow burn of mounting tension and growing threat. One that pays off beautifully when the supernatural aspects kick into high gear and everything that happened is revealed.
Three and a half stars.