As it turns out, Christmas isn’t the only holiday that encourages giving. With Halloween just over a month away, horror-streaming service Shudder surprised horror fans. Last week, Shudder debuted the surprise sequel to found-footage gem, Hell House LLC. The first film was a hidden gem that showed the found-footage format could still produce scares. With the first film’s ending swirled in mystery, how many questions would Hell House LLC 2: The Abaddon Hotel deliver?
Eight years have passed since the opening night tragedy at Hell House LLC. The Abaddon Hotel has remained abandoned and closed, wth no answers forthcoming. When investigative journalist Jessica Fox receives an anonymous tip, she becomes convinced that the answers are hidden in the Abaddon Hotel’s basement. She assembles a crew and breaks into the hotel, but quickly discovers that the hotel does not like uninvited guests.
Hell House LLC Effectively Recycles Its Scares
If it ain’t broke, dont’t fix it. Writer and director Stephen Cognetti largely takes this creed to heart in the sequel to his first movie. The first Hell House LLC was an economic and effective use of found footage scares that didn’t take too many risks. Here in the sequel, Cognetti largely follows the same playbook and recycles scares directly from the first film.
If there’s one fun novelty in Hell House LLC 2 it’s Cognetti’s ability to almost perfectly replicate what it feels like to walk through a good haunted attraction.
Fortunately, the recycling works for the same reason many of the scariest bits have worked in past found footage horror films. Shaky cameras tilt and jerk, revealing and then losing sight of nightmarish silhouettes. Edits and cuts to the footage deliver expected jolts that are sure to get a jump regardless of whether you saw it coming. Shadowy figure quietly occupy spaces in the corner of the screen thereby requiring constant vigilance as you watch. Cognetti uses the found footage format as well as any horror director in the last decade. If there’s one fun novelty in Hell House LLC 2 it’s Cognetti’s ability to almost perfectly replicate what it feels like to walk through a good haunted attraction.
A Clunky Narrative Structure Haunts The Story
The first Hell House LLC benefitted from lean storytelling that followed a fairly linear narrative structure. In his second go-around, Cognetti plays with the story format a little. There’s more jumping back and forth between present footage and prior footage police interviews, talk shows, and, well, other found footage. Of course, Hell House LLC 2 is at its best when its in the Abaddon Hotel, so any footage from outside the haunted venue effectively grinds things to a halt.
…Cognetti doesn’t necessarily tank his sequel with lazy expository dialogue. But the climax does sacrifice tension for exposition.
Where The Abaddon Hotel may lose some viewers is the revelatory climax. Original films have the luxury of embracing ambiguity and mystery. Comparatively, sequels always face some pressure to offer their audiences some answers. In this regard, Cognetti doesn’t necessarily tank his sequel with lazy expository dialogue. But the climax does sacrifice tension for exposition. While the exposition doesn’t diverge too much from expectation, it does feel like a story thread involving Sara, from the original film, goes unexplored. That is, it felt like a mystery surrounding the first story was abandoned for a less interesting direction. If there’s another surprise in Hell House LLC 2, it’s the unexpected laziness concerning the ‘found footage.’ On several occasions, audiences should probably be asking just who’s filming the footage they’re watching.
A Few Questionable Guests Are Invited to The Abaddon Hotel
Hell House LLC didn’t boast any breakout performances, but the cast was uniformly competent. In The Abaddon Hotel, some of the performances are weak enough to distract from the scares. Vasile Flutur adds just the right amount of gravitas as documentary filmmaker Mitchell Cavanaugh. While a little less compelling, Jillian Geurts is perfectly fine in the lead role of investigative reporter Jessica Fox. On the other hand, Joy Shatz and Kyle Ingleman are too broad in their performances. They seem to be acting in a very different movie. Any time they’re on screen it has the effect of sapping the movie of any its tensions.
THERE ARE STILL SOME SCARES LEFT AT THE ABADDON HOTEL
Hell House LLC 2 definitely suffers from the law of diminishing returns. In contrast to the economical storytelling of the first film, The Abaddon Hotel gets dragged down by casting issues and a clunky narrative structure. Cognetti also gives in to the tendency for sequels to try and explain too much. But when the sequel focuses on touring the hotel it still brings the scares. There probably should not be a third film, but the sequel does enough right to make it a worthwhile watch.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B