Session 9,
directed by Brad Anderson
(USA Films, 2001)

What is it about abandoned buildings? Wide open and lifeless, yet there's something asphyxiating about the emptiness.

The empty, asbestos-ridden former mental hospital of Session 9 is the literal and metaphorical heart of the movie. A day alone inside the place would be more than enough for a well-balanced person to handle. A week alone for a mentally fragile person would enough to push them over the edge. The asbestos-cleaning workers hired to rid the place in an impossibly short amount of time find themselves slowly pulled into a nightmare from which there appears to be no waking.

This early entry in the digital camera revolution is definitely for fans of Ringu, who like their horror movies heavy on mood, with a helping of behind-you sense of dread.

Although the atmospheric creepiness of the Barnes Asylum is so strong it's practically another character in the story, it is the relationships and the emotional state of being of the five-man crew -- some of them with fairly large demons of their own -- that inform much of the narrative. They don't get along very well, their relationships deteriorating with each work day, as if the place is influencing them.

One of the men, former law student Mike (co-writer Steve Gavedon), having found recordings of former patients' sessions (nine of them in all), has been listening to them on break, slowly falling under the spell of a particularly disturbed patient named who apparently killed her entire family due to the presence of what she identifies as other personalities, one of whom may not even be human.

Gordon (Peter Mullen), the owner of the business and a man with a very dark past, seems to be slowly unraveling as well. Although Gavedon and director Brad Anderson eschew any easy supernatural explanation, there is something very sinister and almost paranormal about the way the tortured past and misery imbued in the asylum worms its way into the minds of all the men there, drawing out the darkness in each of them, in a manner so efficient and targeted that it seems to be driven by an intelligent force. And perhaps it is.

Session 9 is firmly in David Lynch-Nicholas Roeg territory. Anderson does an admirable job of presenting his story in a way that does not insult the intelligence of the viewer, without resorting to gore and cheap scare tactics to frighten. The film beautifully captures its location and provides some brilliantly frightening moments. The ensemble cast is strong and works well.

It falls apart toward the end, somewhat undone by its own ambition. The various plot hints and ominous warnings don't add up to enough of an ending, dragging down the carefully built momentum. The finale feels like a bit of a letdown. Still worth it for the way it gets under the skin, and for what has to be the best closing line I have ever heard in a horror movie.

review by
Mary Harvey

29 March 2014

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