I am surprised that Session 9 got past my radar 15 years ago when it was first released. The movie arrived in my mailbox last week, without fanfare or even a note and no return address. Really! So I watched it as I was obviously supposed to. I felt a little like the character in the movie, Mike (Stephen Gevedon) who was secretly listening to psychiatric session tapes while he was supposed to be working; I was being allowed to learn about the inner workings of the hospital’s horrific past.
I still don’t know who sent it to me, or why, but Session 9 is now permanently on my list of favorite horror thrillers.
After watching it, I immediately went to the internet to look up the location where it was filmed. I wanted to put it on my list of horror movie locations I have to go to. I was upset to find out, since the movie was made, most of the original, creepy, beautiful, brooding brick Victorian had been torn down. The Danvers State Insane Asylum was officially closed in 1985 because of budget cuts and many reports of patient abuse. This hospital, that opened back in 1878, was rumored to be the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy. Yeah, there might have been a bit of experimenting going on at Danvers Asylum. It was a horror story just waiting for someone to write it. The building was so perfect as a movie set! Peeling walls, creepy, dirty hallways, rubble everywhere, piles of things from the past and from recent vandals strewn all over.
I am sure the building itself was the inspiration of the story for writers Brad Anderson and Stephen Gevedon. Apparently, Brad drove by it regularly. How could it not be written about? Anyone looking at the inside of the crumbling building or the bat-shaped design of the double-winged asylum wouldn’t be able to think anything but horror movie. I would have loved to get in there and photograph it for days. They did a great job using all that creepy beauty in the cinematography. Using mostly available light, it is really gorgeous.
So what is it about? The abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital has been purchased by a large company, and they need the hazardous materials removed before they can do the restoration (which interestingly, many years after the movie comes out really comes true). Our guys are the low bidders and promise to do the job in one week, which is an absurdly short period of time for the job. However, the owner of the Hazmat company, Gordon (Peter Mullan), apparently needs the money badly. It’s also very obvious that things aren’t right with his family or his mental state, but we have to wait to find out the details of that.
I have to admit, I did see that story line coming, but I was willing to wait for it. Even though the story was a bit slow moving, it kept my attention and kept me on the edge of my seat.
In the meantime, our team of unlikely workers start on the project, each having a problem that keeps them distracted and not really on task. We know from the beginning, you can feel it, that bad things will happen to all of them…you just aren’t sure who will be first or last. The building seems to be alive or haunted, and there is no way that anything good will come of this job. As soon as one of our guys, Hank, disappears, we start to wonder who’s behind it and the tension builds.
David Caruso as Phil was pretty great, and I was never a big fan of his in “CSI: Miami”. He seemed less stiff in this film and very believable. Additional strong performances were given by Stephen Gevedon as Mike, Josh Lucas as Hank and Brendan Sexton III as Gordon’s nephew Jeff. A small cameo by Paul Guilfoyle (“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”) as property manager Bill Griggs was well done, too.
Director Brad Anderson creates a beautiful atmosphere, and I loved the sound effects. Using the creepy building in the best way, we hear drips, creaks and whispered voices. We have jump scares with birds and lights going out (who kept unplugging the cords?). Session 9 eventually does come to a conclusion (including the use of cool found items as murder weapons — no spoiler), and it’s a very bloody and sad ending.
But I did feel like there were a lot of unanswered questions posed and never resolved. We listen to session tapes with Mike (thus the name of the movie) but never really know why we have this sub-plot, except that the multiple personality patient in the tapes is pretty scary to listen to! We also see rooms that belonged to past patients, with photos and pictures glued to the walls that show us a lot of crazy, but not completely why.
I decided to watch the special features and found out a few things. As director/writer Brad Anderson explains, there was another story line and character in the movie that they completely cut out. A homeless woman lived in the building and watches everything. She had a very large part in the original story and in the ending, yet they cut her parts out completely during editing. I loved what I saw of her and would like to see the movie cut with her in it, especially her part of the ending. It still didn’t explain the session tapes completely or the patient rooms. Maybe there could be a Session 9 Revisited to answer all the questions?
As much as I loved Session 9, the final conclusion wasn’t as good as the rest of the film. Maybe it would have been a greater movie with the homeless woman included, or possibly if we had seen the ghost of the patient in the session tapes. I still give it a solid 4 out of 5 and will place the mysteriously delivered DVD into my collection of favorites.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5 ZOMBIES