After having to sit through the “so stupid it might actually be good” Bones, it’s something of a revelation to voluntarily sit through Brad Anderson’s Session 9, an independent horror film that was overlooked by the box office because it was not heavily promoted. The box office and America never noticed Session 9’s coming and going and it’s completely their loss, because Session 9 is a hell of a movie.
The main attraction of Session 9 is an old, gothic state mental hospital from the 19th century that is in need of HAZMAT cleaning. Gordon’s company gets the contract off the basis that Gordon promises the undeliverable: to clean up this giant hospital, which has more than a dozen separate wings and floors and winding underground tunnels, in one week. The hospital was home to 2,000+ mental patients in its heyday, but was shut down about 15 years ago for various reasons. Now it’s in need of asbestos cleaning because, as a state landmark, the place can’t be torn down.
Gordon’s 5-men team arrives to take care of the dirty work and find an eerie hospital, covered in rust, dust, and unpleasant reminders of despicable deeds from the past when mental illness was treated with barbaric mentality. It isn’t long before each member of the team starts to realize something isn’t quite right, but is the problem with the hospital or is it with Gordon’s team?
Session 9 is all about atmosphere. The movie was shot on digital film and this is most apparent during kinetic scenes where the digital format’s limitations come to light. On the plus side, I can see how shooting in digital would save a lot of money. The movie has a low-budget feel but you wouldn’t know it by the smooth flow of the film. There are only two locations — at the hospital and at Gordon’s house, and even Gordon’s house is shown from the outside.
Director Brad Anderson and co-writer Stephen Gevedon has gone for an old-fashioned sort of horror film, the kind that doesn’t rely on people jumping out of shadows behind characters to scare them. In fact, I can’t recall one “cheap scare” in the whole movie. In lieu of gimmicks that are so prevalent in the teen horror genre of today, Session 9 relies on the imagination of its viewers as well as its characters. Are there actually spirits of the damned still residing in the hospital? Are those shadows in the background moving? Session 9 is not concerned with giving the audience straight answers and it’s so much better for it.
Acting throughout Session 9 is strong, and in a low-budget film that takes place over a small number of locations, strong action is paramount to provide credibility, since the filmmakers can’t afford other areas to showcase. David Caruso (TV’s “NYPD Blue” and recently Proof of Life) is so right for the role it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing it. Caruso is Phil, Gordon’s buddy, who may or may not have a personal motive to undermine Gordon’s authority in the company. There is a hidden look in Phil’s eyes that makes you wonder if he’s plotting against you or thinking of ways to help you.
Peter Mullan, as Gordon, is also terrific as the boss. Gordon and his wife, Wendy, have just had a baby girl, but as Phil mentions to another character, it was not Gordon’s choice to have the kid. The result is that Gordon is completely miserable and going home is now a chore. If all of that wasn’t bad enough, Gordon is showing signs of a mental breakdown from all the stress at home and at work. The supporting characters all do very well in their roles. Brendan Sexton is Jeff, Gordon’s nephew, a novice to the asbestos cleaning service and who is completely impressionable and very much afraid of the dark.
Josh Lucas is Hank, the shoot-off-the-cuff slacker who stole Phil’s girl, resulting in Phil and Hank being in perpetual conflict. Session 9’s co-writer, Stephen Gevedon, is Mike, the last member of Gordon’s crew, an intellectual who flunked out of law school, and who seems to have a better head on his shoulders than the others. Or does he?
The real trouble for Gordon’s crew begins when Mike accidentally locates old recordings between a doctor and a patient named Mary Hobbes. There are 9 sessions total, and as Mike goes through them one by one, we begin to see the same things that are occurring within the recordings happening to Gordon’s crew. Gordon and his men are, quite literally, re-living what is taking place in the session recordings. By the time events start to spiral out of control and the men are at each other’s throats, we are desperately waiting for Mike to play the ninth session to see how it’s all going to end. For much of its running time, Session 9 is deliberate in its pacing and (rightfully) lacking in any physical action. That is, until the inevitable resolution in the last Act, when everyone comes to light and confrontations turn bloody and violent.
Session 9 is a creepy session. Make sure you don’t watch it alone or with the lights off. At the very least, keep a curtain opened or within easy reach. This film is guaranteed to creep you out, and you will never look at a lone chair sitting at the end of a hallway the same way again.
Brad Anderson (director) / Brad Anderson, Stephen Gevedon (screenplay)
CAST: David Caruso …. Phil
Stephen Gevedon …. Mike
Paul Guilfoyle …. Bill Griggs
Josh Lucas …. Hank
Peter Mullan …. Gordon Fleming
Brendan Sexton III …. Jeff