Sunday, May 03, 2009

Session 9

Film: Session 9 (2001)
Dir: Brad Anderson
Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

It pains me that there are so few horror movies like Session 9. I guess modern movie audiences don't have the patience for slow-boiling tension. This movie is one of the scariest I have ever seen, and yet it draws upon atmosphere and suggestion rather than jump scares or gore.

The film takes place in a run-down asylum with a violent past. An asbestos abatement crew are brought in to clean the place up. Their foreman Gordon (Peter Mullan) is a working-class guy with a new baby and a lot on his mind. His best friend Phil (David Caruso) is along to help, but constantly fighting with Hank (Josh Lucas), who is dating his ex-wife. As the days drag on, tensions rise among the men and mysterious occurances in the asylum become more frequent. Unbeknownst to the others, Mike (Stephen Gevedon) has been sneaking into the hospital at night to listen to old recordings of a schizophrenic patient's therapy sessions. As the tapes approach the ninth and final session, dark truths begin to reveal themselves.

Spooky old buildings - especially those once inhabited by the violently insane - really creep me out. You just know they are full of crazy, pissed-off ghosts! But Session 9 isn't really a ghost movie - it's as much a ghost movie as Kubrick's The Shining. In other words, there are creepy apparitions, but they derive from the damaged psyche. Or do they? Everything in the film has a clinical/psychological basis, and yet it does hint at supernatural influence. I love that the movie approaches the subject from both angles and leaves the viewer to decide what is really going on.

Session 9 achieves tension and terror with hardly any effort. For starters, the title alone builds incredible suspense. As Mike plays sessions 1, 2, 3, you just know something CRAZY is going to occur at 9. Each new tape reveals something increasingly more dark than the last, and I was constantly on edge wondering what was coming. Furthermore, the setting is spooky, as is Brad Anderson's unnervingly calm cinematography. There are no ghostly children here - just dark hallways, isolation, and implications of shocking violence. There is also spooky voice-over thanks to multiple personalities on the session tapes - very, VERY creepy. Try to get "Simon"'s voice out of your head after watching this movie.

Finally, I want to mention the actors, who are all great. Especially Scottish thesp Peter Mullan, whose performace as Gordon is sympathetic and haunting. And Caruso keeps his hamminess to a minimum (minus one hilarious shot you have probably seen as a .gif file online). I think Session 9's only fault would be a few superfluous details and points left unexplained. But overall, this is an amazing, unique horror film that haunts you long after it's over.