When a group of cold case investigators stay at the Carmichael Manor, site of the unsolved murders of the Carmichael family back in the eighties, they’re never heard from again. What is discovered on their footage is even more disturbing than anything found on the Hell House tapes.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen an effective found-footage horror film. The genre, which exploded after the release of 2008’s Cloverfield and the original Blair Witch Project, has become somewhat tired in recent years. So it takes a bold director to tackle bringing back its authenticity. But with the lengthy titled Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor Stephen Cognetti has done just that.
Not only is Carmichael Manor a tense exploration of the titular location. It’s also the fourth film in what is becoming a staple of the streaming horror world. Cognetti doesn’t just direct, he’s also the mastermind behind all four of the Hell House LLC films. Across each story Cognetti and his team has built out a haunting world which exists on the outskirts of New York. Here the action shifts from the Abaddon Hotel to the nearby Carmichael Manor, home to a series of grizzly murders.
The film is framed in a documentary style with posted interviews from several contributors. These talking heads setup the tension of the film with ominous exposition. Within minutes we know the characters that we’re about to meet aren’t going to get a happy ending and that acts as a nimble starting point for what is to come.
Margot (Bridget Rose Perrotta) has set out to spend several days at the Carmichael Manor in the hopes of shooting a true crime documentary. Accompanied by her estate-agent girlfriend Rebecca (Destiny Leilani Brown) and brother Chase (James Liddell), the group settles in to the supposedly haunted manor. Handily there’s an estate manager on hand to explain exactly what happened to the ill-fated Carmichael family. The site bore witness to a series of murders at the end of father Arthur Carmichael, or so we are led to believe. A series of flashbacks perhaps setup Arthur’s son Patrick as the perpetrator. Patrick, as it happens, worked at the now legendary Abaddon Hotel in a connection to the wider Hell House LLC world.
Cognetti succinctly reflects both stories in the found footage. With the Carmichael’s daughter an avid filmmaker we get to see events unfold in the 80s. This acts as a precursor to imagery which Margot and her team experience in the present day. There’s a playful back-and-forth which also enables the film to ramp up tension. Seeing Arthur bring a pair of incredibly creepy clown statues home from Abaddon, for instance, is a clear red flag for when Margot and Rebecca find the clowns are still in the house. In a way it’s quite playful. Cognetti is toying with the audience, clueing us in to what’s coming but never signposting its arrival.
There are moments where this kind of tension building falls flat. In an homage to The Shining there seems to be an abundance of clown noses rolling around the hallways of Carmichael Manor. It’s the classic item-rolls-out-of-a-dark-corner trope. Sometimes, like in The Nun II earlier this summer, it works. Here it doesn’t add to the already well developed atmosphere.
Carmichael Manor ultimately succeeds on a number of levels. Firstly it stands entirely on its own despite connections to the wider franchise. Any newbies to Hell House LLC can absolutely pick up this film and will undoubtedly leave intrigued about the wider world. Thanks to cinematographer Josh Layton it also masterfully immerses the audience in its creepy setting meaning its jumps are unexpected and effective.
Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor is a forceful and impressive use of found footage. Its creepy atmosphere is enhance by playing on the phobia of many viewers… creepy clowns! If you’re looking for a good Halloween jump scare then this film is for you!
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