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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Day 292: Session 9

Session 9
Number 9. Number 9. Number 9

Insane asylums/mental hospitals are the perfect setting for horror movies. They're better than morgues, better than graveyards, better than public school on picture day. There is just something inherently terrifying about these asylums. Maybe it's because of their well-known violent past. Maybe it's because countless numbers of people died inside them. Or maybe it's our own personal fear of losing control and being doomed to a life of pills and padded walls. Whatever reason it may be, no other building, structure or institution fits the world of horror better then an insane asylum. The fear exists before the movie even starts.

Session 9 is a 2001 psychological horror movie starring David Caruso (CSI: Miami, NYPD Blue) as Phil and Peter Mullan (War Horse, Trainspotting) as Gordon Fleming. Gordon owns the Hazmat Elimination Company and has just gotten the contract to remove the asbestos from the abandoned Danvers State Hospital. The old insane asylum is quite large and while Phil says it should take three weeks to clean, Gordon tells the owner they'll clean it in one. Gordon and Phil's team includes the irresponsible Hank (Josh Lucas, Hulk, Poseidon) who stole Phil's girlfriend, law school dropout Mike (Stephen Gevedon, War Of The Worlds, Devil You Know) and Gordon's nephew Jeff (Brendon Sexton III, Empire Records, Boys Don't Cry). While cleaning, Mike discovers nine taped sessions with a former patient named Mary Hobbes. The tapes describe Mary suffering from multiple personality disorder. Her other personalities include a little girl called The Princess, a young boy named Billy, and someone named Simon, whom the doctor cannot speak with yet. The incident has been blocked out and the doctor desperately tries to get Mary to remember. As the week wears on, Hank discovers a cache of silver coins and other valuable items in a tunnel underneath the hospital and leaves the job to head to Las Vegas. At the same time, Gordon begins to unravel, revealing to Phil that he hit his wife. Mike, who has become engrossed with the taped sessions, learns that a some sort of mysterious incident occurred to Mary on Christmas in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1951. Jeff sees Hank at the hospital, despite supposedly leaving for Las Vegas, and the rest of the group gives chase. The generator, which provides light to the hospital, runs out of fuel and the building goes dark. One by one, each member of the group is attacked. Who is the one behind the attacks and how does Mary's sessions fit in to everything?

It's clearly haunted, but look at those windows!

For a movie with a pretty low budget, Session 9 manages to create a fantastically eerie atmosphere. You're never sure what is going to happen next and where the movie is going. The music is one contributing factor to the atmosphere. Light playing of piano notes makes scenes that would normally be benign seem important and sinister. Scenes in the movie were shot at the actual Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, which certainly gave the movie a real sense of reality. The building is quite amazing to behold, especially when you know that Danvers was supposedly the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy. Another factor was the sessions that Mike was listening to. It really felt like they were plucked out of a real mental hospital. The sessions hold a gripping story with a good amount of suspense in regards to what happened and how it relates to the current events. While the sessions are a good parallel for what is happening in the movie, I was disappointed that they didn't actually affect anything. They're still creepy, no question, but I was expecting a ghost or something along those lines. The story does get intentionally confusing towards the end in hopes of having a big surprise ending. Unfortunately, it wasn't particularly shocking and made the previous confusion unnecessary. The payoff should have been a lot better than what we got.

The acting is good throughout the movie with Caruso and Mullan putting in the best performances. There are a few scenes of bloody violence towards the end, but probably not enough for the typical horror fan. The majority of the story is a little too slow for my liking, but the Mary sessions kept me interested. Writer/director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Fringe) does a really good job on a small budget, crafting a dark movie that leaves the audience guessing. There are some really good horror scenes, including one with an ice pick and one with Jeff running down a hallway with the lights going out behind him. The movie is heavy on mood and a little light in terms of narrative.

Devo: The Later Years

Session 9 has a decent story, but great atmosphere. The setting is authentic and spooky, far better than something one a Hollywood set. The taped sessions are probably the best part of the movie as they are quite unsettling. Sadly, the movie doesn't have the payoff I was expecting. The ending is fairly predictable, despite having a confusing lead-up. There is some decent violence and blood, but that only comes at the end. The acting is good and the direction is very good. Session 9 has it's moments and had the potential for greatness. It just didn't reach the heights that it was going for. It's a decent watch with some good scenes, so if you're looking for something different, give Session 9 a shot.


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