Saturday 4 November 2023

Shudder Saturday: Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor (2023)

I am not going to spend too much time here repeating myself, but it's important to remind everyone that I am a big fan of the Hell House LLC trilogy (and I think we can continue to view that as a trilogy, considering how this film bases itself elsewhere, despite strong connections to the events that unfolded at the Abbadon Hotel). Found footage horror done right, I was equally excited and apprehensive when I heard about writer-director Stephen Cognetti making another trip back to that well. 

Set in the titular Carmichael Manor, this is all about potential supernatural happenings being investigated by Margot (Bridget Rose Perrotta), her partner, Rebecca (Destiny Leilani Brown), and Margot's brother, Chase (James Liddell). Having investigated a number of places over the years for her website, Margot quickly comes around to the idea that the Carmichael Manor might actually be the one genuinely haunted location that she has investigated. There are random noises heard, figures glimpsed, and horrible bloody clown mannequins that start developing a very bad habit of turning up in unexpected places.

I'm actually quite easy to make nervous when it comes to the right kind of horror. Anything to do with ghosts, or hauntings, has a chance to get me on edge, and keep me there for the duration. Throw in some creepy clowns and you have a perfect storm of factors to keep me wanting to watch events unfold from between my fingers. "The Carmichael Manor" continues to serve up the thrills and chills as consistently as the other Hell House LLC movies, and I view the whole series as a great example of how to do this kind of movie. Whether or not you end up enjoying these as much as I do, they really help to highlight the chasm that exists between the very worst and very best of found footage horror movies. Some people still think that you can make a movie by getting some friends together over a weekend spent wandering around an old building while filming a load of inactivity on your smartphone. That's not how you make an effective horror movie. This is.

Although there's the standard problem of having characters continually filming long after they would have bumped it down the list of priorities (with "staying safe and alive" being moved to the top of the list), the cast do a very good job here of maintaining their fluctuating group dynamic, delivering the required exposition, and becoming more and more afraid as the situation gets more serious. Liddell may have to play his character with a bit more emotional turbulence (he's brought along to help, but also to keep him busy after a recent "episode" that had people worried about him), but he does well enough with what he's given to work with. Perrotta and Brown do even better though, less hampered by the script, and both moving further and further into the "eye of the storm" as everything builds toward a foregone conclusion. 

Although absolutely fantastic when it comes to building tension and presenting scary set-pieces, the film does falter when it comes to the unnecessary spiderwebbing plot. With the found footage framed by segments in which people talk about how events unfolded (hence the foregone conclusion, another mis-step in the script), Cognetti takes the opportunity to bring in more of the Abbadon Hotel lore. That's a real shame, particularly when the backstory of the Carmichael Manor is interesting enough as it is. I would have rather had less explanation, despite how nicely it does tie things together, and more ambiguity, and I rolled my eyes at a last-minute "reveal" that was signposted from very early on in the movie. It didn't stop me being a fan though.

Four films in, the Hell House LLC series has a chance at becoming one of my favourite ever horror brands, and I look forward to whatever comes next from Cognetti, whether he moves into new territory or finds other ways to tell more stories in this movie universe.


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