SESSION 9 (2001) – The Dungeon Review!
Session 9 was left in my suggestions/recommendations ages ago and I figured it was high time I gave it a review. Officially, this is my second viewing of Session 9. When I enjoy a film I make a note of the director. Brad Anderson made my radar after his direction of the brilliant 2004 film The Machinist. His resume was pretty sparse at the time and included two romantic comedies that didn’t really interest me and a film called Session 9. Session 9 had an interesting premise but the appearance of David Caruso’s name in the cast did put me off a little. I actually don’t dislike Caruso, but he hasn’t exactly been in a lot of good films. I’m glad I didn’t let Caruso scare me off and you shouldn’t either. Session 9 is a damn fine film and Caruso along with the rest of the cast do a hell of a job.
An asbestos removal team bids for a contract on a rundown mental asylum. In order to win the bid, crew leader Gordon promises to have the job done in one week. There is animosity among the group that escalates while on the job. Gordon and his wife have a new baby who has been sick since birth. Gordon is in a constant state of exhaustion and is making questionable decisions. Phil still pines for his ex who is now dating fellow crew member Hank. Phil and Hank snipe at each other constantly. Mike becomes obsessed with some tape recordings of a patient named Mary. Mike spends every spare moment listening to the recordings even returning to the creepy building at night. Rounding out the group is Gordon’s nephew Jeff. Jeff is the virgin crew member who it turns out is afraid of the dark.
Session 9 was filmed inside of Massachusetts’ Danvers State Insane Asylum which had been abandoned at that point for several years. Danvers was built in 1874 to accommodate 500 patients but in the 1930’s housed 2000 some odd. Reports of severe overcrowding, excessive shock therapy, drugs, lobotomies and general mistreatment would eventually see the asylum closed down. Fun fact, Danvers State is allegedly the first facility to perform the pre-frontal lobotomy! The history alone is creepy but the huge rambling facility with its massive labyrinth of tunnels running underneath is the stuff nightmares are made of. Anderson lets the building speak for itself. While the film explores the supernatural, it is really left to one’s own interpretation. There are no cheesy jump scares, ghosts of mental patients, psychotic doctors, equipment that comes alive, or any of the trappings of most horror films that takes place in mental asylums.
The addition of patient Mary Hobbes’ therapy sessions played throughout is perfectly executed. Mary’s story runs parallel to the crew’s and both are equally compelling. Mary has split personality and living within her are Princess, Peter and Simon. Mary’s doctor speaks to Princess and Peter but is unable to communicate with Simon. Mary has a dark secret that only Simon can divulge. Meanwhile, the men get more combative with each other as the film progresses and one of them disappears causing further tension among them. The intensity between the men builds gradually and you are never sure whether personal demons or supernatural forces are at play. The films titular Session 9 is where Mary’s elusive personality Simon finally makes an appearance and the men’s story comes to its climax.
Session 9 relies heavily on dialog and mood to push its story along. The film is of the psychological variety and there is no violence until the last few minutes of the film. The gradual and subtle way the scenes roll out in my opinion is what makes the film work. The cast do a great job of making the characters natural and believable. Peter Mullan who plays Gordon is particularly strong. Session 9 changes gears for the finale and throws a frantic collection of scenes together to tie the film up. It is a little disorienting considering the pace of the film up to this point, but it actually works brilliantly. While the ending can really be left to interpretation, either conclusion you come to is equally disturbing. Session 9 is a great psychological horror-thriller that is intense, smart and chilling. Highly recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Brad Anderson
Starring: David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas, Peter Mullan, Brendan Sexton III, Charley Broderick, Larry Fessenden