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Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor Review

October 30, 2023 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
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Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor Review  

Directed by: Stephen Cognetti
Written by: Stephen Cognetti

Bridget Rose Perrotta – Margot Bentley
Destiny Leilani Brown – Rebecca Vickers
James Liddell – Chase Bentley
Gideon Berger – Patrick Carmichael
Cayla Berejikian – Catherine Carmichael
Victoria Andrunik – Margaret Carmichael
Darin F. Earl II – Bradley Moynahan

Image Credit: Cognetti Films, LLC

Running Time: 98 minutes
Not Rated

It wasn’t long ago that the Hell House LLC franchise looked to be done. Stephen Cognetti’s found footage franchise kicked off with the 2015 original and started off strong, delivering a well-made horror flick that knew how to use the divisive format to maximum effect. Unfortunately, the follow-up saw the premise spiral downward. Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel had its share of strong moments but didn’t hit the heights of the original, and 2019’s Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire was a shockingly silly affair whose biggest crime was not even particularly trying to be scary.

Lake of Fire seemingly closed out the franchise’s story – but of course, few horror franchises are content to stay dead and Cognetti decided that he had more stories to tell in the universe. Lucky for us, Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor is an unexpected return to form and a very pleasant surprise. Releasing exclusively on Shudder on Monday, the latest entry manages to keep the universe going with a film that effectively delves deeper into the mythology of the franchise while also bringing things back to what made the first one so frighteningly effective.

While the title of the film would suggest otherwise, Hell House LLC Origins is not a prequel to the original three films. Nor is it exactly a sequel. Instead, Cognetti leaves the setting of the Abaddon Hotel in the embers that was left in Lake of Fire and moves onto the site of another tragedy in the same area: The titular Carmichael House.

Set in 2021, the new mockumentary looks at the case of Margot Bentley (Bridget Rose Perrotta) and her girlfriend Rebecca (Destiny Leilani Brown). Margot is an “internet sleuth” who investigates true crimes and brings Rebecca along to the isolated upstate New York home where in 1989, most of the wealthy Carmichael family were slaughtered in their beds. The only two not found dead – son Patrick (Gideon Berger) and patriarch Arthur – were never seen again.

Margot seeks to investigate the decades-old crime by staying five days in the house – something that Rebecca seems somewhat less enthused about. Margot’s troubled brother Chase (James Liddell) is also along for the ride to help document the events. What they find there not only has ties to the events of the Abaddon Hotel from the previous three films, but also threatens to pull them into the shadows for good.

With the arc of the Abaddon Hotel having wrapped up in Lake of Fire, Cognetti has been freed of that storyline and that enables him to go in a new direction for The Carmichael Manor. It’s a welcome change, as there was only so much left to story to tell around that setting and the diminishing returns had been severe. A new mystery and backstory do this film wonders, allowing our main characters to avoid going through the same ill-advised motions we’ve already seen three casts worth of characters undertake.

At the same time, Cognetti is able to continue a film that feels very much like it belongs in this world. The creepy-looking clowns from the previous films factor in, as do some other surprising aspects. That’s enough of a connection for the storyline to rope into what we’ve seen before that it doesn’t feel like a generic haunted house story that might have been crammed into franchise trappings.

Sure, some things seem similar – we have the documentary format and the well-meaning characters making some poor decisions. That said, the cast does all the heavy lifting to make our protagonists feel sympathetic. Perrotta and Brown in particular have plenty of chemistry and we buy these two as romantic partners from the get-go. That investment is crucial to understanding why they do the things they do when their project starts going wrong.

Most importantly, Cognetti’s new setting allows him to instill a new level of terror that had been increasingly absent. The long, darkened halls of the Carmichael Manor feel fresh and unexplored. It feels very different than the cramped quarters that made up the Abaddon, leaving us wondering what’s around the corners. Cognetti has always been good at directing within this format, and he makes the most of what he’s doing here with some truly chilling moments of suspense wrung out of simple red balls or shadows on the wall.

The writer-director also uses a set of 19980s home movies from the Carmichaels to tell another aspect of the story that runs parallel to Margot, Rebecca and Chase’s tale. The dual narrative is an effective way to unfurl the mythology and allows Cognetti to take a break from the present arc when the characters get a little too wrapped up in the found footage tropes of poor decisions. The 1980s-set cast gets a little less to do, but they come across well and fulfill their roles nicely.

The Carmichael Manor isn’t able to fully free itself of the pitfalls of the format. Cognetti isn’t reinventing the wheel here; the last act starts to fall prey to some of the more frustrating aspects of the subgenre like shaky camera work and a lack of clarity regarding the action of the moment. But it never comes fully off the rails, and there are some genuinely frightening moments along the way. It sets up a new direction for the franchise and one that, considering the series seemed done after the last entry, is one that many fans will want to travel down.

Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor premieres on Shudder on October 30th.

The final score: review Good
The 411
It isn't easy to turn your horror franchise around after a couple of disappointing sequels, but Stephen Cognetti pulls it off with Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor. The latest film in the the Hell House LLC universe deepens the franchise's mythology, but most importantly returns to its scary-ass roots. With some solid performances by the case and assured direction from Cognetti, this is a legitimately frightening found footage film that makes a surprisingly strong cast for the franchise's continued future.