Session 9 (2001)

Starring David Caruso (Phil), Peter Mullan (Gordon), Stephen Gevedon (Mike), Josh Lucas (Hank), Brendan Sexton III (Jeff)

Directed by Brad Anderson

There’s nothing scarier than a big imposing old building with towers and barred windows. Especially when the building starkly sits atop a hill, domineering and mysterious, looking over what is technically the original site of the Salem witch trials. Did I mention that during its operation, it was a lunatic asylum? God I love New England.

Danvers State Hospital is the site of Session 9, Brad Anderson’s (Next Stop Wonderland) latest film and first foray into the world of horror. Co-written with Stephen Gevedon who also turns in a fine performance for the film, you’d think they’d had their fingers in the genre for quite some time because this movie delivers the goods.

On the outside, the plot seems fairly mundane: an asbestos removal crew gets the luck of the Irish (pun intended) when they land a job at the old hospital. The place is riddled with the poisonous insulation material and Hazmat Elimination Company owner Gordon is hard up for the job. So you’d think (as the characters do) they’re golden. Not exactly. Just looking at the building is enough to unnerve even the most stoic of people, but having to spend a week in the place is a whole other story, and it’s laid out in Session 9 with chilling results.

The crew of five gear up and move in for some heavy duty asbestos slinging. They’ve apparently all been working together for some time with the exception of Jeff (“stop calling me Warren!”), Gordon’s nephew. He was hired on specifically to help get the job done by the ludicrously short 1 week deadline. I feel bad for the kid when it’s revealed he’s severely afraid of the dark because he’s not exactly in the best job environment with that kind of psychosis. The interraction between the cast is friendly and easygoing with the typical razzing that men are so fond of. Then there’s the nasty venom between Hank and Phil, who lost his girl to Hank’s smart ass, self assured, tough guy act. The anger and hate is strong between these two and one can’t help but wonder why one of them hasn’t quit, until you realize it’s probably out of spite that they’ve both stuck around. Each character is marked in some way, by their own kind of misery, whether self imposed or beyond their control, and it’s complemented by the hospital and its haunting and menacing past.

If you go online and look up the Danvers State Hospital, you’ll see
some photos of the building. And you’ll see that I’m not kidding about how nightmarish the place looks. Any horror fan would take one look at it and salivate with the many possibilities the place has to offer, I know I did the first time I saw it several years ago. While some might argue that Anderson completely missed the mark, wasting the structure, or overly used its foreboding charms to make up for any actual storytelling, I disagree. Anderson played the hospital the way Buckethead plays his gee-tarr; Like a master. The characters develop as you watch them work and eat and talk and argue, unaware of the menacing atmosphere they’ve walked into, and that’s the beauty of it all. They’re in this real life house of horrors (reputedly the home of the first labotomies) and they’re only vaguely conscious of it because they’ve all got lives and problems and worries, like all us of do. They’re busy and self involved, oblivious to each other, and ultimately they become trapped. By the time anyone remotely realizes that things aren’t going oh so smoothly in Hazmat land, it’s too late. Which brings me to the aspect of Session 9 that has people’s panties wound tighter than a Japanese fetish whore’s.

The biggest hurdles you’re going to have to face when seeing Session 9 are your own expectations. Not bad special effects or a stupid score, both of which are top notch. You won’t have to worry about a lack of scary moments, the entire last half of the movie is a scary moment, I haven’t been that tense since I got my wisdom teeth removed, all four in one sitting. There’s nothing to fear when it comes to the acting, everyone delivers, everyone is more than convincing.

It’s hard not to notice that people are in a tizzy over Session 9. I’ve heard things lik”e “they didn’t know what genre they wanted it to be”, “it’s slow, it dragged”, “it didn’t make any sense”, “mechanical acting”, or (God help me) “the final resolution is more ludicrous than convincing” among many other negatory observations. I think it’s a result of people getting something totally unexpected.

Session 9 is not confused, slow, boring, or pointless. You know why? Because no movie as well thought out and so beautifully executed could be.

My advice to you is ditch whatever it is you think you want this movie to be or thought it was going to be. Whether your expectations were for a ghost story or a psychological thriller or an evil building vehicle, just watch the freaking movie.

If you already saw it, and hated it, then watch it again. So many people bitch and moan because they’re sick of the same old same old, but when someone finally makes a new and unexpected picture, people complain. We’ve been given a new and very scary movie and it should be appreciated accordingly.

4 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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