Oct 25, 2010

Session 9

What better way to celebrate the Halloween season (yes...it's a season for some of us) than to watch a good old-fashioned horror flick? I can't think of one.

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.

Note: Remember to play the Badgerdaddy Trivia Challenge every day. "I live in the weak and the wounded...Doc."


Mrs. Hall said...

lunatic asylums . a.k.a. psychiatric hospitals are interesting things-I mean, medication to treat mental illness hasn't been around that long. but bat-shit crazy has been around since the dawn of time.

these places housed a lot of crazy folks. or what people called crazy. that in and of itself was suspect.

part of my training was at the state mental hospital, centralized buildings with housing on the grounds for staff. long underground tunnels connecting everything. it was not spooky though.

it was interesting, working with these patients. they were brought in by the police against their will and suffering from full psychotic breaks and/or manic episodes. they were often full on crazy.

But there are medications nowadays-stuff that can really help them very fast. sometimes we can even give them.

people have a lot of rights now a days though-the police only bring you in if you are a danger to yourself or others.

meh, I'm babbling here-but-big ole psychiatric hospitals are things of the past-except when it comes to the state-the state still has them to bring people have no other choices, no where else to go.

there is still a need for inpatient psychiatric care-most private hospitals have a psychiatric ward/floor-for short terms stabilization.

there is still a need for longer stabilization stays though. longer than average 3 days. i still see a need for buildings like these, like a psychiatric hospital in the center, half way or rehabilitation housing in the other sections. the problem is funding. crazy people don't carry insurance and the state is always strapped for cash.

the end results is often a short term inpatient stay and out they go. still crazy (but no longer saying the trigger words). And with little or no community support.

bah. like all of health care, mental health care needs fixing to. but, we work with what we got.


deep discussions about asylums before 7 am! good times!!

Paticus said...

I had forgotten about this movie. I remember seeing it on video back when it came out. I seem to remember Caruso not being so awful in it. Very creepy flick.

Verdant Earl said...

Holly - This place, Danvers, was supposedly the first place to do the pre-frontal lobotomy. And a host of other "cures". Yikes.

Paticus - As Caruso goes, he wasn't bad.

Slyde said...

ive had it on my instant queue for a few weeks now. maybe i'll move it up a bit.

Mrs. Hall said...

yeah-i read the wikipedia page. gah. lobotomies-uft-just shows how desperate people were to battle mental illness. i mean, with no medications doctors did all sorts of things-like cut out parts of the brain to stop the madness. but that is madness in and of itself. irony.

and even the first mental health medications -stuff like Thorazine-it was still primitive. Thorazine is a surgical anesthetic, just used a lower dose for mental health patients. Bah, medications are much more defined/refined now, but it's tricky business. Even with all the MRI/CAT scans, even for all we know about the brain, we know a whole lot less.

I can say that that the biggest factor in helping the crazy is being kind. Meeting them were they are, extending a hand and letting them know they don't have to walk the journey alone.

Because even though we have medications, they are no good without simple human kindness.

ok. . . good times


I still have my keys-the ones they gave me as a student when I trained at the mental hospital. They never asked for them back. So I still have them!!

i kept them just in case the men in white coats come for me!! I have the keys to get out!!


Verdant Earl said...

Slyde - it's a good one. Slow, but good.

Holly - That's smart thinking!

sybil law said...

Ooooh- if I can manage to remember, I'll have to check it out!!
So- was the patient with the multiple personalities Mike's mom? I'd just be pissed if it was.

Heff said...

Never even heard of this film. I'll look for it on Dish Network this week.

Verdant Earl said...

Sybil - Not telling (but no) ;)

Heff - It's also on Netflix Instant.

Raine said...

We were super psyched for this flick because we live one town over from danvers but I hated the movie. Thought it was totally lame