I remember when Session 9 first hit the theaters back in August of 2001. It opened with generally good reviews and I particularly remember the NY Times giving it some good notices. Unusual for a horror flick. So I was interested enough to make a mental note on some day seeing it. It was in and out of the theaters fairly quickly, so I knew that meant a home rental one of these days. Or catching it on cable.
I finally got around to watching it over this past weekend, and I really shouldn't have waited that long. It's an excellent piece of work. A horror movie that forces you to think. Imagine that?
The movie itself is very minimalistic. Five working class men take a job to clean out some asbestos in a former mental institution that had been closed amid rumors of a scandal or two. As they go about their one-week gig at the abandoned hospital, a little bit of each man's psyche/character/past is revealed. Gordon is worried about his wife and new child. Phil and Hank bicker about Hank stealing away Phil's woman. Jeff, just a recent high-school grad and the nephew of Gordon, spends his time avoiding the dark tunnels of the basement as he is extremely afraid of the dark. And Mike, maybe the most interesting character of all, is a law-school dropout with a mystical side who spends his downtime listening to a stack of recorded conversations between a patient with multiple personalities and her doctor. The tapes, nine in all, are labeled as Sessions 1 thru 9, and they introduce us to all of the patient's varied hidden personalities. Engrossing and frightening stuff.
The film stars Peter Mullan, who is unquestionably one of my favorite unheralded actors around, as Gordon, the head of the crew with David Caruso as Phil, his second-in-command. Caruso is generally not my cup of tea. He tends to squint, cock his head and whisper a lot. I guess that's his thing. But Peter Mullan...brilliant! As he always is. Josh Lucas as Hank, Brendan Sexton III as Jeff and Stephen Gevedon (who also co-wrote the script) as Mike round out the cast.
But the real star of the film is the former Danvers Lunatic Asylym. Oh sure, it had been renamed the Danvers Mental Hospital some time before it eventually closed in the mid-80's, but a lunatic asylum is what it was. And the horrors that most likely occurred there at the patient's expense were most likely much, much worse than anything the sane could imagine.
The building itself, most of it recently torn down to make way for condos, is a cinematic marvel. Something akin to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. A brooding presence all on its own. But abandoned and dark and waterlogged as opposed to the sterile beauty of The Overlook. One would think that a filmmaker would be hard-pressed to make a horror movie at Danvers that wasn't scary. The grounds of the asylum itself are scary enough.
And like The Shining, this film isn't your straight-forward horror tale. Many interpretations of the events that unfold once the men start digging into the belly of the beast are available to the audience. Some of them too frightening to ponder. Can evil lie dormant in a brick and mortar building over years of abandonment? Or is the evil in the hearts and minds and actions of every man? Or is there something...else going on?
It's a slow burn. Not everyone is going to enjoy the pacing. But for those of you with patience and an interest in psychological horror, Session 9 may be for you.
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