FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 14, 2006

SESSION 9

The first time I saw the 2001 film Session 9, I can't say I was terribly impressed- and in retrospect, my unenthusiastic response was completely my own fault. The film simply isn't what I thought it was going to be. I went in expecting a balls-out scarefest, a real horror flick in a real eerie setting. But writer/director Brad Anderson's film is more akin to Don't Look Now or The Shining than it is to Friday the 13th, and expecting one type of movie but getting another left a bad taste in my mouth. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a bit obsessed with scary buidings, particularly dead buildings...more particularly dead insane asylums. Having visited the location used in Session 9, Danvers State Hospital, I decided to give the movie another chance- if only to take in the environment again. Knowing what type of flick this is going in, wow...I'm so glad I gave it another chance to thrill me, because the second time was a charm. I've been enamored with the film ever since.

A small crew of HazMat workers spend a week inside Danvers State Hospital, cleaning out the nasty asbestos so the long-closed building can be converted into offices. As the week wears on, tensions build amongst the men and it seems that the hospital's dark past is about to awaken.

Anderson (along with co-writer Stephen Gevedon) has crafted a slow burn of a movie. There's no denying that the film oozes atmosphere right from the start- it'd be near impossible not to when you're shooting on location in an abandoned mental hospital. Through the use of overlapping timelines, foreshadowing, and extremely creepy voiceovers (courtesy of a series of doctor-patient session reels found in the basement), the film chugs along steadily building toward a surprisingly vicious climax. Anderson doesn't trot out the typical horror film cliches along the way- there's no jump scares, the body count throughout is low- but rather he assumes a patience in the viewer and rewards that patience as the events unfold and secrets are revealed. In other words, this is not a horror flick for the jump cut-ADD crowd.

Aside from the location, the film succeeds largely because of the aforementioned session reels. As Mike (Gevedon) listens to the story of Mary Hobbes unfold on a dusty reel-to-reel in the asylum basement, the warbly sounds of Mary's "alters"- Princess, Billy, and ultimately, Simon- reveal the evil that can lurk within a damaged mind. As Mary's story parallels that of crew chief Gordon (Peter Mullan), we come to understand that there's the possibility that evil can lurk within any of us, waiting for a trigger to be released. Simon personifies that evil for Mary, and when the film closes with this exchange--

Doctor: And where do you live, Simon?
Mary (as Simon): I live in the weak and the wounded...doc.

--it's absolutely chilling.

Where Session 9 falls short, unfortunately, is in the characterization of the crew. They're all damaged men, yet we only get small glimpses into their lives. Learning more about all of them would serve to heighten the tragedy at the film's core. Overall, this is a minor quibble and Session 9 stands up just fine as an atmospheric psychological horror film.

7 comments:

Amanda By Night said...

Speaking of the HazMat workers, when I saw this movie, with an old roommate, we decided the redheaded one was the only one who worked around that joint! And then BOOM! Dude dead! He was kind of a sweet character.

I have to admit, I guessed the ending very early based on obvious clue but I thought the film was amazing. AMAZING. I remember being engulfed by the building as if I were there. Atmosphere and methodical pacing count for a lot when you know what you're doing.

Amanda By Night

Chadwick H. Saxelid said...

I heard that the abandoned hospital where the Session 9 was filmed is being converted into a condominium.

I would so totally by a unit there.

SikeChick said...

This is probably the only thing I've ever liked David Caruso in. I love this movie. So spooky and atmospheric. I've recommended it to a couple of people who also loved it.

Stacie Ponder said...

Chad- you're right, the buildings are being converted into luxury condos. I'm kind of torn about that idea. On the one hand, it's a beautiful building, so anything is preferable to tearing it down.

To my mind, though, it's sort of like sacred ground, and somehow putting an internet cafe on the site and having people spend ridiculous amounts of money to live where so many people suffered just seems...kinda wrong.

On the other hand, I guess it's just land.

Sikechick, I'm with ya. Caruso is bearable in this and pretty much only this, and I think that's more to do with my enjoyment of the rest of the film rather than his abilities. He still employs the "lean the head to one side and flatly intone with an air of superiority" technique he employs everywhere else. I can tolerate it here, but that's about it.

Michelle said...

we come to understand that there's the possibility that evil can lurk within any of us, waiting for a trigger to be released.

This was my read on the movie to. The person I watched it with pointed out that the main guy hears Simon's voice at the beginning of the movie before his 'triggering' trauma happens, so he read it as a haunting/possession movie.

I think thinking of it psychologically makes it much more horrific, though. The potential is there in everyone...

Stacie Ponder said...

I think the whole "Simon" thing can be read either way, but you're right...it's much more terrifying if "the potential is there in everyone". Atrocities can't be blamed on being possessed- it's all you.

I shudder just thinking about it. Last night I was practically pleading with my brain: "please don't get diseased...please to get diseased..." :D I never, ever want to hear the words DO IT, STACIE in my head...unless there's a bowl of ice cream in front of me and I'm trying to decide whether or not to eat it.

Poor Gordon gets a little too stressed out and a little too tired and...

Christopher said...

David Caruso is a primary reason this film work. There's a Sixth Sense style bait-and-switch going on throughout, and it's a little bit creaky in terms of of whether it ultimately works, but Caruso sells it well. Great film. Sorry that Danvers is gone now....