Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel
Runtime: 1 hour 29 minutes
Director: Stephen Cognetti
Starring: Vasile Flutur, Jillian Geurts, Joy Shatz, Dustin Austen, and Kyle Ingleman
I’ve known about Shudder for a couple years now, but not until a month ago has exploring the service’s impressive cave of horror gems become my favorite, new pastime. To anyone not familiar with the name, Shudder is a premium horror streaming service owned and operated by AMC Networks, producers of shows Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. The niche site/app houses a spooky catalog of films, TV series, and other original/exclusive content that all have a thematic foot in the realm of horror in some way, shape, or form. For instance, you could find dramas like Take Shelter (2011) next to infamous, extreme cinema like Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Anyways, while on my exploration of what the app had to offer, I came across a fairly recent horror film, Hell House LLC (2015). I had vaguely remembered hearing something about it around the time of its festival run, but I couldn’t retain exactly what I had seen. After taking a quick glance at the incredibly encouraging user reviews (a cool Shudder feature), I committed to give it a go; 90 minutes later, I understood all the hype.
Hell House LLC follows a documentary crew as they seek answers into the mysterious circumstances of a haunted house “malfunction” that left 15 people killed. Within the narrative frame of a documentary, we are presented a collection of “found footage” clips, each giving us a deeper look into the event leading up to the Hell House Halloween tour tragedy. What impressed me the most about Hell House LLC was its unsettling wheelhouse of horror tricks. It’s very rare that I can find a movie that can scare me, so I was beyond excited to learn that a sequel to the 2015 film would be releasing (exclusively) on Shudder only weeks after my initial viewing. The release of Hell House II has since come and gone, and so I can confirm that the sequel is in fact a worthy successor to the original (at least where it counts) and is one of the year’s best horror films.
Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel is a sequel to 2015’s Hell House LLC, picking up 3 years after the first film. With the same faux-documentary style of the first one, we again open the film with testimonials from people who have suffered from encounters with the haunted Abaddon Hotel, where the 2009 Hell House haunted house tour tragedy occurred and where the head documentarian, Diane, from the first film was last seen on camera. Mitchell (Vasile Flutur), the lone survivor of the Hell House documentary, has since been in legal battle with the small town of Abaddon, New York and is haunted by the events he witnessed those years ago. While speaking with a panel on a local, public access “ghost watch” program, Jessica Fox (Jillian Geurts), an especially ambitious guerilla investigator, boldly reaches out to him with the promise of answers as to what the cause of all paranormal activity at the deadly hotel is. Jessica believes Mitchell to be the only person capable of safely escorting her and her crew through the dangerous hotel, since he has spent the most time with the Hell House footage. After an initial, reluctant meeting and some condensed bonding, Mitchell, Jessica, and her crew of two take their shot at breaking into the haunted local and retrieve the evidence of the hotel’s unsettling past.
I think it’s fair to say that the production value of the Hell House films isn’t as pronounced or polished as say a Conjuring film, but what director Stephen Cognetti and company are capable of is impressive in a much creepier way, and I hate using that word “creepy.” So while the green screen or other on-screen graphics during the expository clips peppered throughout the film have an inescapable feel of cheapness to them, the content of the film (the scares) lands notably better than that of typical studio horror. Perhaps as a rare fan of the “found footage” trend that dominated the early 2010’s, I’m still a bit biased, but Hell House II, and its predecessor, capitalizes on its first-person perspective as well as, if not better than, the best that the sub-genre has to offer – i.e. REC (2007), Paranormal Activity (2009), and Grave Encounters (2011). An early scene in the film shows an urban exploration YouTuber breaking into the Abaddon Hotel. Almost immediately upon approaching a doorway inside, the demonic or malevolent force makes itself known, opening the door for the curious explorer, which is isn’t especially scary in and of itself. How the hotel finishes off our brief protagonist though, legitimately got under my skin. Later on in the film, there’s a number of sequences where Mitchell, Jessica, and crew are rushing through the narrow hallways of the hotel to find a way to an exit before one of the many deadly apparitions can close in on them. The actors stick to and lead each-other as they (and we the audience) anxiously scan for shadowy ghouls in the background. The authenticity from the actors mixed with the effectively creepy staging by Cognetti, not to mention the literal haunted house props still left-over from the night of the original Hell House tragedy, evokes that same rush you feel when you’re trying to haste your way through a maze at your local Halloween haunt. The end of the film may be a bit too topical in comparison to the rest of the film for most, but I think the film’s centerpiece scares work well enough that you’ll be well satisfied with the journey.
The thing I love the most about Shudder is the way it is showcases horror from all corners of the technical spectrum. Historically, the horror genre has been the natural home for cinema’s most daring, experimental content, content seldom explored in mainstream Hollywood productions. Whereas advancements in filmmaking technology have seen the proliferation of independent film across all genres, horror and sci-fi are still stigmatized by establishment groups (i.e. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for consistent award consideration) and theatrical distributers. As a result, those genres are typically dismissed, sometimes rightfully so, by the general public unless lots of money is thrown behind it, which means the majority of the contributions to the genres aren’t able to be as polished as the typical studio production. Hell House II is one such film that doesn’t have the most convincing acting at parts, nor does it have especially seamless CGI, but its moments of horror are degrees of magnitude scarier, and more consistent, than the those of most theatrical releases this year.
Horror Scale: 8.2/10
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