Ah, Found Footage. The sub-genre that just won’t die. Most fans could probably agree that Found Footage is played out at this point, though every once in a while, filmmakers come along with a new way to tackle it. Just look at Unfriended: Dark Web and its use of the internet. The sequel to the popular Hell House LLC, Hell House LLC 2: The Abaddon Hotel, is not one of those films…
…Recently released on Shudder, writer/director Stephen Cognetti returns for the surprise sequel which was only announced within the last couple of months. For those unfamiliar, Hell House LLC detailed the events leading up to a terrible tragedy at a haunted house on opening night. The sequel picks up eight years later, with the editor on the original “documentary”, Mitchell (Vasile Flutur) joining Jessica (Jillian Geurts) and her journalist team on an expedition into the house in an attempt to uncover the mystery as to what happened during that horrible night.
For those that haven’t seen the original film, Hell House LLC 2: The Abaddon Hotel actually does a pretty decent job catching viewers up with what happened previously. Though I would still definitely recommend watching the first film, er, first, you don’t HAVE to have seen it to have a pretty good idea of what is going on. Cognetti expresses an abundant amount of patience, maybe too much, in taking the time to build the lore of The Abaddon Hotel and the events during the opening night of Hell House. It’s the kind of story that gets under your skin, and by framing it within the Found Footage genre, Cognetti is effective at making the lore seem real enough, that if the film had been made way back in the 1990s when audiences had never heard the term “Found Footage”, some may have actually been fooled into believing this really happened. It’s just that creepy. Unless you don’t believe in ghosts, in which case, I dare you to say “Bloody Mary” into the mirror five times. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Hell House LLC 2 follows a similar editing style to the original, cutting back and forth between the past and present, a tactic which worked beautifully the first time around, but which falls flat on its face here. See, the first film simply followed a singular storyline of a group of people making a haunted house and documenting it, with some glimpses at future footage here and there. But in Hell House LLC 2, the film spends a LONG chunk of time catching the audience up, while also inter-splicing footage of Jessica and her crew, as well as various others that have visited the house since the tragedy, including a few surprises shown in videos from before the events took place. The constant jumping around results in the film feeling jumbled and at times confusing. It’s also a huge distraction from any attempt to get to know the characters.
Since the first Hell House LLC focused on following the main cast, we got to know the characters well, and to Cognetti’s credit, many of them were well written. Because of the editing style in the sequel though, we bounce around so much that we really don’t get to know much about these people, other than surface values such as Jessica is ambitious and Mitchell wants to prove what really happened to his friends. That’s not enough to care about anyone, and in Found Footage, it’s important to make characters feel as real as possible to get the right effect. For the most part the performances are fine, if not a little forced at times, but the actors don’t have a whole lot of screen time to endear viewers before the chaos goes down. Molly (Joy Shatz) is one of the few memorable characters, not because she sells her character, but because her lines and frightened demeanor comes off as so over the top to the point where it’s, I hate to say it, obnoxious. That’s not really a jab at Shatz, because the character is clearly written to be nothing more than the screaming girl in the corner, a cliché that you would think horror had moved on from by now.
But don’t you worry, fans of laughable horror tropes, because Hell House LLC 2 is full of them. Girl who can’t do anything but scream and be useless? Check. Ghosts that pop up and disappear when the camera comes back to them? Check. Characters so stupid that you find yourself yelling “don’t go in there!” almost every five minutes? Check. Hell House LLC 2 has it all, but honestly, in this case, it’s part of the film’s charm. While I certainly prefer horror that’s a little more unpredictable, Hell House LLC 2 settles so snugly into unoriginality that in a way, it’s practically nostalgic. That being said, Cognetti understands tension and scares well. Though the film eventually devolves into the typical run and scream Found Footage finale, Cognetti knows how to get a good chill going down your spine. For the first two-thirds of Hell House LLC 2, the film isn’t your average jump scare a minute pile of CGI crap. Decrepit production design and eerie makeup effects lend themselves perfectly to Cognetti’s ability to tell an unnerving story. I can’t promise Hell House LLC 2 will “scare” you, but I can say that, like the wave of blood spilling from the elevator in The Shining, Hell House LLC 2 is overflowing with haunting imagery and nerve-flicking suspense, with ghosts that are actually on screen and aren’t green tennis balls floating around on set.
I need to pause for a moment to vent about one gripe that I have with Hell House LLC 2 and so many other horror films. STOP. SPOILING. WHO. LIVES. That “lives” part isn’t always accurate, but to this day, I have never understood why horror films show us a scene taking place after the events with the “one and only survivor”. Part of the fun to horror is that we DON’T know who is going to make it out. It’s like a reality show competition, who’s going to make it to the end? So when filmmakers spoil that for us, it automatically alleviates any tension regarding that character, because we suspect they’re going to be fine. Now, yes, most of the time, the filmmaker attempts to throws a “twist” at us using that character. But more often than not, including in the case of Hell House LLC 2, that so called “twist” is predictable, and often unsatisfying, coming off as a simple gimmick instead of moving the audience in one way or another. We want to be SURPRISED, instead of wondering from minute one what sort of scummy rug the filmmakers are going to try to pull out from under us. Okay, rant over.
For all the negatives and ways in which this sequel doesn’t come close to the effectiveness of the original, Hell House LLC 2 does do one thing right. It advances the lore. To say the film does anything different would be a stretch (it doesn’t), but it does do what sequels are supposed to do, which is answer questions while creating new ones. Cognetti provides us with an extra layer to the story of the Abaddon Hotel and what exactly is going on beneath the surface, and the answer is both clever and satisfying, while also providing enough reason to present the franchise as Found Footage. Fans of the original will find enough here to enjoy with Hell House LLC 2 as the sort of late night horror film to flip on for a good scare or two, but if you weren’t impressed the first time, don’t expect this clichéd sequel to keep you at night…or for the entire ninety-minute run time, for that matter.
Hell House LLC 2: The Abaddon Hotel is now streaming on Shudder.
By Matt Konopka