“I hate jump scares, and I find them being used more and more in traditionally-shot studio horror,” says Stephen Cognetti, writer and director of the found footage indie hit Hell House LLC. This wonderfully refreshing attitude definitely shows in his latest release, the Director’s Cut of his debut feature-length film. Hell House LLC may well be the only found footage movie in recent years—or possibly ever—to not have any jump scares.
An unholy half-mockumentary, half-found footage hybrid
A lot of movies these days are “based on a true story.” Sometimes a movie will declare itself to be a true story in the opening credits, and then just be obviously fictional a la all those dumb James Wan movies. Some take a documentarian angle like Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) or else just present what appears to be real “footage” that may or may not have been “found” by someone, as is the case with movies like Creep (2014) or The Dark Tapes (2016). This fun, creepy haunted house story is an unholy half-mockumentary, half-found footage hybrid.
A dramatic (at times, intense and scary) descent into Hell
While at first presented as a documentary about the titular Hell House (LLC), the movie shifts in the second act to a found footage angle exposing the strange, difficult-to-understand events that befell the staff and patrons of the haunt. Oh right, another thing: it’s a haunted house movie that’s also literally about a “haunted house” - not just an old house with spooky ghosts and evil in the basement. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of that here too, but this one’s about the kinda joint where you take your kids to get terrified by dudes in clown costumes.
Which sucks for everyone involved really, because the spot in this movie is haunted as fuck. What plays out is a tense, dramatic (at times, intense and scary) descent into what could well be the actual Hell. Right from the get-go the characters can clearly sense that something is amiss… But obviously they don’t quite get the picture, because nobody runs screaming until it’s way too late.
“I love subtle scares and mystery.”
Does the leader of team Hell House know more than he’s letting on? He might, but whatever that may be, don’t count on him to tell his fellow characters – or the audience. “I like the unknown over answers,” said Cognetti in a recent post on Reddit. “I love subtle scares and mystery.” The special feature’s deleted scenes, altered material and backstage retrospective shine a little light into Hell House LLC’s darkness. By showing how some shots and effects were achieved (the movie has very, very little CGI) this stuff gives us, the audience, a little more insight into just what the hell is going on in Hell House.
A small crew and tiny budget can still accomplish so much
The DVD’s extended length movie (about 10 minutes longer than the original cut) and director’s commentary help clarify the mysterious and open-ended events of the film… albeit, only slightly. In the commentary, the director explains his artistic process, his reasoning, and some of the more ambiguous scenes. Overall it’s good. It has so much heart, and so much work went into making Hell House—shit, the director edited the thing himself in his spare time for a whole year—that it couldn’t be anything but good. Indie horror always takes a little of suspension of disbelief, but Hell House LLC shows that a small crew and tiny budget can still accomplish so much.
It’s really clever, too, in its total rejection of modern pop horror. It leaves so much to the imagination that for 80% of the movie, you don’t even know if it’s supernatural or not. There’s no giant, CGI Cthulhu leaping out at the camera in the climax, either. Something crazy definitely went down, but not even the characters in the movie know just what happened at Hell House. It’s got situational irony and dramatic irony!
Hell House LLC makes its position on the jump scare very clear
“What studios get wrong in horror many times (in my opinion) is that they doll it up too much, it’s too stylized and polished,” Cognetti told HorrorRated. “Found footage has a feel of realism that gets missed in a lot of the bigger budget horror movies” We couldn’t agree more with that statement. Hell House LLC makes its position on the jump scare very clear, and does it very well. It’s confusing—sometimes in storytelling more really is more and Hell House always chooses less—but it has heart, and it’s worthy of its ambition. We’re giving Hell House LLC’s dark, mysterious director’s cut eight-and-a-half (the half-one is dead) screaming naked women being sucked into the netherworld out of ten.
This is one of those rare special horror movies that transcends the found footage genre to become something else entirely. This is a horror movie for horror fans. Even for those fans who tend to avoid found footage. Don’t go in expecting the run-of-the-mill indie found footage movie. Hell House LLC is much much more…