Review by Cole Groth
The Hell House franchise has been a rollercoaster of quality. The original installment was a great new found-footage movie with an exciting premise and some good scares. The first sequel is probably one of the worst horror movies ever made. The third entry, though, picked up a bit and wasn’t quite as bad as its predecessor. Fortunately, Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor is much more in line with the original. With a quick pace, good scares, and believable characters, it might be the best film in the series.
Like the rest of the series, this film is shot like a documentary. Intercut with the found footage are talking head interviews about the wild disappearances of the film’s subjects. A common element in any found-footage movie is scares placed in the corner of frames, something the Hell House franchise loves to lean into. Typically, this series plays too heavily into scares like that, but they’re reasonably scarce in this one. Expect lots of yelling, confusion, and other elements you expect from this type of movie.
At the beginning of The Carmichael Manor, we’re told the results of what we’re about to watch. Couple Margot (Bridget Rose Perrotta) and Rebecca (Destiny Leilani Brown) are internet investigators. Tasked with the daunting challenge of exploring the Carmichael Manor, where several grisly murders happened in the eighties, the two, along with Margot’s brother (James Liddell), stay for four nights in an attempt to solve the murders, only to go missing themselves. Over the film, we see the insanity in the manor, all captured by the victims themselves.
Writer-director Stephen Cognetti has stayed with the series since its beginning. His writing skills and the quality of actors he puts in his films have drastically shifted from film to film. The fourth entry features the strongest script and best performances. Perrotta and Brown are surprisingly fantastic and make for some of the most likable and authentic protagonists in a found-footage movie. Most films of this genre — especially in this series — focus on annoyingly loud people, the removal of which makes this a lot better.
To all my loyal followers, you’ll notice that my reviews are much harsher on Shudder films than other writers. Usually, I don’t find their movies scary; if they are scary, they end up being highly unpleasant watches. Fortunately, The Carmichael Manor stands out as a consistently satisfying and scary horror flick. During the regular, unscary scenes, the pacing is fast enough not to feel dragging. When the third act begins and the insanity peaks, the scares are powerfully uncomfortable and well done. Even though the characters’ fates are known from the beginning, it’s still surprisingly riveting to see what will happen next.
This immense praise isn’t to say the movie is without flaws. Cognetti’s story is hard to follow, and it seems the only thing that will save the plot is a complete reset in the future. There’s a whole flashback subplot that’s pretty confusing, too. Looking past a confusing story, you’ll find a great new horror movie in Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor. This series seems to be on the right track for the first time since the first film. There’s a lot of potential in the franchise, and hopefully, Shudder will push through with a sequel that manages to be the same quality.
Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor releases on Shudder on October 30.