Session 9 (R)
USA Films Official Site
Director: Brad Anderson
Producers: David Collins, Dorothy Aufiero and Michael Williams
Written by: Brad Anderson and Stephen Gevedon
Cast: Peter Mullan, David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas, Brendan Sexton III
Rating: out of 5
Given the recent spate of teen horror films—which believe shocking surprises are the sole method of scaring an audience—director Brad Anderson’s chilling SESSION 9 thankfully returns the genre to its more menacingly foreboding roots. Utilizing a new high-definition digital camera that gives the film a strange film-video hybrid sheen, the story revolves around Danvers State Mental Hospital, an abandoned insane asylum modeled (rather unashamedly) after the menacing Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING. Yet where the latter succeeded in creating an ominous sense of dread that built to an orgiastic climax of unimpeded horrors, Anderson’s vision is more limited, as is his success.
Rotting away in the Massachusetts countryside, the soon-to-be-renovated hospital receives its first visitors in 15 years when an asbestos abatement crew arrives to clean the place up. Led by Gordon (Mullan), a Scottish immigrant desperate to score a big contract lest he risk the bankruptcy of his company, the crew is a rough assemblage of guys who have all, for one reason or another, found themselves in a dead-end profession. And if working with asbestos isn’t enough to increase the pressure of the job, Gordon (in order to secure the contract) tells his client that his crew can handle the task in just one week, despite the protestations of his crew chief, Phil (Caruso).
Gordon’s team—which includes Mike, a former law student who has given up on his dream in order to work with his friends; Hank, the resident prick who’s also sleeping with Phil’s ex; and Jeff, Gordon’s wet behind the ears nephew—welcomes the assignment, but it’s clear from the outset that the Hospital has a disquieting effect on everyone working there. SESSION 9 wisely takes its time meandering through the moldy hallways and dank basements of the Danvers Hospital, which is the obvious star of the film. Rising out of the woods like the Overlook’s eerie kin, the hospital was once the birthplace of a controversial repressed memory theory that eventually turned out to be false and, amid the ensuing lawsuits, was closed down for good. Naturally, as the crew begins its arduous race against time to finish the job, strange clues begin to emerge that the hospital was home to more than standard-issue medical practices.
The most prominent of these are a set of tapes Mike stumbles upon that contain the therapy sessions of Mary Hobbes, a former patient who apparently suffered from multiple personality disorder. The haunting voices that emanate from these sessions—ranging from the frightened voice of Mary herself, to the more demonic personalities living within—are the backbone of the film’s terror, creating an air of otherworldly forces that enhances the sinister malevolence permeating the hospital’s every corner.
Anderson contrasts the impenetrable darkness of the hospital’s endless web of corridors with the bright daylight of the outside world to create an impression that the crew is slowly becoming entombed within the building. Yet while the film does a superb job of using the hospital’s claustrophobic gloom to reflect the increasing stress of the men—the result of both their increasingly fractured interpersonal relationships, as well as the unsettling aura surrounding their workplace—one too many ideas seem lifted straight from similar (but more successful) horror films. Thus, the crew finds itself constantly confined in chemical protection suits that recall the spacesuits worn in ALIEN, and the hospital itself—ominously gothic and predictably supernatural—takes a well-worn page from Kubrick’s opus.
There are important (albeit only hinted at until the unfulfilling conclusion) subplots involving Gordon’s family life and Phil’s extracurricular activities, but since both are only half-baked, yet carry such weight at the end, the film winds up feeling like an unnecessary exercise. Nonetheless, with its nicely distorted soundtrack (an apt assortment of bleeps, whizzes, and feedback-enhanced voices) and superb performances from its principal performers—Mullan’s Gordon, a tightly wound father figure, and Caruso’s shady, commanding Phil—SESSION 9 avoids the pitfalls of its more teen-oriented brethren, even if it fails to reach the heights of its more esteemed forefathers.
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
It’s worth a full-price ticket.
It’s worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
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