August 10, 2001
Brad Anderson and Stephen Gevedon
David Caruso as Phil
Stephen Gevedon as Mike
Paul Guilfoyle as Bill
Josh Lucas as Hank
Peter Mullan as Gordon
Brendan Sexton III as Jeff
By Brad Slaton
In Session 9, terror is a place. This is a perfect mixture of atmospheric dread and unseen horror – a creepy film that has gone generally unnoticed by horror fans.
Session 9 is the story of a group of asbestos removal workers who get more than they bargained for when they are hired to clean the Danvers State Hospital. Mike the member of the group that has knowledge of the hospital happens upon a box of audio tapes that contains sessions with former patient 444 who had multiple personalities some childlike and another that is far more malevolent. Along with this members of the group are also having personal issues. Gordon is stressed due to money issues and a new baby, and Phil is angered by Hank stealing his girlfriend. Jeff is Gordon’s nephew who is coasting through life doing the bare minimum and letting responsibility fall on his co-workers. Slowly as the job progresses deeper into the hospital the horrors of the session tapes of patient 444 are revealed.
Brad Anderson hit the jackpot with the perfect mix of location, casting, & story with Session 9. Danvers State Mental Hospital is by far the creepiest location in recent memory. The fact that this hospital actually has a disturbing past full of lobotomies straitjackets, and patient neglect makes it all the more creepy and foreboding. As you watch this film you feel trapped inside the decaying walls of the asylum and even though 95% of the film takes place during the day there is a constant darkness that reigns over the proceedings. Once Mike begins playing the session tapes of patient 444 the Danvers hospital and the surrounding grounds begin to take on a whole meaning and menace the likes of which the cleaning crew could never have imagined. Kudos also have to be given to cinematographer Uta Briesewitz who gives the shadows and hallways that extra touch of doom. It is saddening to know that the Danvers Hospital was mostly demolished in 2006.
The cast of Session 9 are all perfect in their roles; this is easily Caruso’s best performance as he fits the role of Phil perfectly. Peter Mullan plays Gordon with the right mix of stressed business owner and new parent who is in need of cash and a break from the day to day challenges of parenthood. Josh Lucas pulls off the cocky asshole Hank with ease. As Mike, Stephen Gevedon leads the film into the dark recesses of the session tapes and we feel his emotions as they progress. Closing out the crew Brendan Sexton III brings a great feel to the character of Jeff who has little motivation in life in addition to a severe case of acrophobia (fear of the dark) which plays into one of the most terrifying scenes in the film and a moment in which I genuinely felt my stomach drop. In a nice bit of genre casting horror favorite Larry Fessenden has a small cameo role. All of these actors buy in completely to their roles and it shows in the straight played performances that boost the film beyond the requisite drunken, stoned teens in a remote location characterizations that the genre has become diluted with.
The Session 9 story is not overly complex yet it does not pander to the lowest denominator of excessive gore and over explained story. Writers Brad Anderson and Stephen Gevedon expertly craft a script that plays on a number of psychological fears and incorporates the location as an actual character that grows and deepens with each moment. The dialogue of the session tapes might rate as some of the creepiest and disturbing that I have heard. The slow build of dread and atmosphere mixed with what feels like the breathing of the actual building as the tapes are played is nerve wracking. You actually care and feel for these characters as the story plays out which is rare in horror these days. I hope that these two will one day work together again.
As a long time horror fan I find it hard to be rattled by a film, but Session 9 had me looking over my shoulder numerous times and brought me back to the feeling of being a kid and watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on cable while my parents were asleep. If you are looking for a creepy, atmospheric, unsettling film that will play with your psyche well after the credits roll you cannot go wrong with Session 9. It leaves a mark and stays with you afterwards. If you can find the DVD it has some great special features including a cool featurette that details the hospitals history along with creepy goings on during filming.