In Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor, Stephen Cognetti has unearthed a rare gem. One that will take pride of place on any horror fans’ watchlist
In its short lifespan, the found-footage genre has endured a rocky road. There have been glorious and jaw-dropping triumphs in The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, and some far less impressive titles that deserve to fall into the bargain bin. So when a director sets out his stall to redefine the genre, needless to say, it’s a slippery slope to defeat.
Taking up the challenge is visionary writer/director Stephen Cognetti. After a string of wildly entertaining jaunts at the Abaddon Hotel, the fourth addition to the Hell House LLC franchise turns the story on its head and attempts to inject new life into the found-footage genre. Shifting away from the doomed hotel is one thing. Switching genres is another beast altogether. So can Cognetti deliver on his promise and deliver a fresh take on the genre? Or is Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor another disappointment headed for the bargain bin?
Fear not dear readers because Cognetti has achieved the unthinkable. Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor is a rare gem. A truly terrifying return to form for the genre. In its thrifty one-hour and forty-five-minute running time, the plot unearths a primal fear that will chill us all to the bone. From its well-placed jump scares to its genuine tension-building, the movie delivers the ultimate Halloween experience. And in the era of tepid horror fare, this is an achievement well earned.
THE CARMICHAEL MANOR
Across each of the previous outings, Cognetti and his talented team have developed their very own self-contained corner of the horror genre. It takes place predominantly on the outskirts of New York with the Abaddon Hotel being the main focal point. But for this excursion, the story shifts to Carmichael Manor and the slew of mysterious deaths that happened on the premises back in the 1980s. It is here that the genre swap takes hold. Cognetti frames the movie as a mockumentary-themed found-footage investigation. The opening moments feature a slew of interviews with in-the-know contributors who begin to reveal the backdrop to the story we are about to witness. These contributors ramp up the tension by revealing that the team we are about to meet met a gruesome end and set us off on an unnerving path we will never forget.
Crime/paranormal investigator Margot (Bridget Rose Perrotta), her real estate agent girlfriend Rebecca (Destiny Leilani Brown), and her brother Chase (James Liddell) arrange to spend four days in the Manor to conduct a paranormal investigation. This isn’t their first rodeo, so the team quickly gets to work exploring the enormous manor. Thankfully, the estate manager is on hand to show them around and reveal how the Carmichael family met their gruesome end.
We learn that Arthur Carmichael slaughtered his entire family, although the body of his son, a former employee at the Abaddon Hotel was never found. In the years that followed, guests at the manor have reported strange goings on. And, as a result, none have remained in the manor longer than a few nights. Margot, Rebecca, and Chase are determined to be the exception to the rule, and with the clock ticking on their investigation, they swiftly get down to business.
Aside from the regular interview segments dotted throughout the running time, the film remains entirely in the realm of found footage. And not just for the present investigation. Thankfully, Carmichael’s daughter was an avid filmmaker and documented the days leading up to the tragic events that claimed her family. What follows is an exploration of the manor in two separate timelines. But as we delve deeper into the story and climb deeper into the chilling rabbit hole, both stories intersect with chilling consequences. The story shifts back and forth to reveal more breadcrumbs in both times. These time jumps never outstay their welcome because they drop subtle but vital clues to the mystery. And as the haunting events begin to unfold in both times, more clues lead to more paranormal activity.
For instance, we witness Arthur bringing a pair of waxwork life-sized clowns back from the Abaddon. Both are dripping with blood and boast the ability to follow you around the room with their eyes. Anyone with a clown phobia will need several cushions to hide behind by this point. And once they make their presence known, they are seldom far from the chilling events. In truth, this is a masterstroke by Cognetti. The breadcrumbs often lead to nerve-shredding events that will have viewers on the edge of their seats.
These moments come thick and fast, and not just in the form of jump scares. Cognetti uses shocking imagery that leaves its mark and has its audience pondering its significance. All the while taking us by the hand and setting up the next inevitable moment of terror. This is nail-biting fare at its finest, and it’s all the more rewarding as a result.
While Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor still maintains a connection to its predecessors, it ultimately stands on its own two feet and presents us with a fresh story. Yes, the callbacks to the wider franchise are there for all to see. But thankfully, new viewers can drop straight in without any predisposition and leave eager to explore more of the genre. And with three previous outings to explore, there is more than enough to fill your Halloween watchlist. Like all good horror fare, the Carmichael Manor becomes a character in its own right.
The setting is truly gloomy and ominous. Although the remote building basks in sunlight during the day, by night it transforms into a true house of horrors. All sorts of clown iconography move around the house, and footsteps fill the hallways in the dead of night. Hell, even the camera footage captures imagery the investigators fail to see and the outcome will shred our nerves to their core. Sadly, some of the clown tropes have been done a thousand times before, and many of them are as predictable as always. But ultimately, they do not detract from what is otherwise a truly chilling and wholly entertaining horror story.
Overall, I had a blast with Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor. Reinventing the found-footage genre is a thankless task and a challenge many filmmakers would steer well clear of. But thankfully, Stephen Cognetti has captured lightning in a bottle here. His execution is flawless. The result is a truly chilling horror movie that is big of terror, short on disappointment, and takes the tension to new highs.
Although its musical score is limited, it serves to ramp up the tension that builds to a crescendo of terror that will have us biting our nails to the bone. The manor itself is a beautifully haunting building with its remote setting doubling down on its isolation. And the usage of sound as it echoes through the trees will have us all looking over our shoulders for years to come. If Cognetti set out to redefine the horror genre he succeeded effortlessly. In Hell House LLC Origins, he has unearthed a rare gem. One that will take pride of place on any horror fans’ watchlist. So warm up the popcorn, dim the lights, move to the edge of your seat, and prepare your nerves for a chilling night of terror you will never forget.
The clowns won’t tickle your funny bone, but believe me, they’ll make you a laughing stock!
Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor will stream on Shudder tomorrow. Subscribe to our newsletter at the top of our homepage to stay up-to-date with all the latest Shudder news and reviews from Future of the Force.
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!