Dread is tough to pull off in a horror flick. When done right, the audience doesn’t even realize what’s happening. We’re tense but we might be entirely sure why. There’s a fine line to walk between trying too hard to elicit the feeling and not trying at all. Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire walks that line with precision. There are a few choppy moments in terms of presentation, but this Shudder exclusive is an appropriate ending to a story that started in 2015.
Hell House LLC III is, in case it wasn’t obvious, the third — and final? — sequel to Hell House LLC. The 2015 horror movie became a franchise seemingly overnight, which is nothing to sneeze at when one considers the current state of found footage horror flicks. The third chapter picks up a year after part two, taking us back to the Abaddon Hotel. You’d think after the first two, people would have to be drunk, high or both to even walk within a 30 mile radius of the hotel.
Whenever weird things happen, the three characters in charge of the whole operation do their best to deny and gaslight the victims, even though they believe every single word
Without getting into spoilers, writer-director Stephen Cognetti finds a great reason for our main characters to venture into the Abaddon. Those familiar with the Hell House LLC movies know they are always more than meets-the-eye as far as the plot goes, so every single interaction is important. As the mystery unfolds, we get answers about the hotel. Unlike part two, the answers here are satisfying and make sense. As much as a movie subtitled “Lake of Fire” can make sense, but you get the point.
The plot machinations aren’t what make the movie work though. It’s the thing mentioned earlier – the dread. Every frame is drenched in suspense because we know what happened to everyone else who dared take a camera into the hotel. The characters are also aware of the past, making the actors performances uneasy. Damn near every character walks on egg shells, creating a fair amount of tension in every exchange. Cognetti uses that terseness to have the movie subtly comment on current affairs. Whenever weird things happen, the three characters in charge of the whole operation do their best to deny and gaslight the victims, even though they believe every single word.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this comes when investigative journalist Vanessa Shepherd sees something which can only be described as “scary af” and has the whole thing on camera. The three men in charge convince her she saw nothing, even though they’ve seen the footage themselves. Shepherd relents and agrees to continue because she doesn’t want to be labeled as “difficult” or “any of the other sexists things men say about women in the workforce.” The commentary is brief but sharp.
Hell House III’s thematic elements and social commentary mean nothing if the movie doesn’t deliver on the scares and it most certainly does. Even when nothing happens, the movie is scary because of what might happen. It’s terrifying the second any character walks into the hotel basement, which essentially functions as the film’s Jack-In-The-Box. There’s no set rhythm or pattern to the scares, which is when horror is at its best. One scene in particular puts the camera on a lazy Susan and conjures up some of the best scares simply due to its unpredictable nature and, once again, the dread it induces.
Cognetti deserves props for managing Hell House III’s tone because this thing could’ve gone off the rails the second the third act starts to get insane. There are elements that in any other director’s hands could be hokey and feel divorced from the rest of the narrative. Shoutout to the actors as well because those last scenes don’t work if they aren’t on point. Gabriel Chytry as Russell Wynn and Elizabeth Vermilyea as the previously mentioned Vanessa Shepherd anchor the movie. Both characters feel the weight of a few worlds on their shoulders and manage to give the movie real stakes. There are a lot of cameras to go around in the flick, but these two are our eyes and ears for various reasons. One benefit of found footage flicks is the performances always feel authentic. Hell House III is no different.
After all that positive, there must be a few gripes, right? Funny you should ask because there is one and it’s pretty damn glaring. The movie relies too much on splicing moments from the previous entries. When a character goes into a part of the hotel where something spooky happened in the first or second movie, Hell House III goes out of its way to remind us of the past. It may as well be a blinking sign post shouting “Hey, remember this?!”
Only once is this effective and used for a creepy scare. But for the most part, the technique feels like a waste. The cameras doing their own mini flashbacks also brings into question the rules of the movie. Can characters see the camera distortion or is that purely for the audience? If it’s just for the audience, doesn’t that “break” the movie? Found footage movies have to establish their rules and Hell House III made it hard to discern said rules. Minor quibble, but a quibble nonetheless.
This is supposedly the final installment in this series and the ending feels definite. Everything wraps up with a neat little bow and it’s hard to see how the series continues. Hell House LLC III is a big improvement over Hell House LLC II and on the same level as the first installment. Watch it with the lights on, sit back and enjoy the ride.
*Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire can only be seen on Shudder.
Marcus Benjamin is a danger to the public, an alum of American University, St. John’s University, a screenwriter, and has an intense relationship with words. Witness his tomfoolery on Twitter,@AbstractPo3tic.