Session 9

| August 16, 2001

Insane asylums are inherently creepy. We all know this. Throw in some evidence of the supernatural and you’ve got the perfect setting for a scary-as-hell horror movie. So why does Session 9 fall so short? Brad Anderson, the Boston area director who made a splash with his indie debut Next Stop Wonderland, is back with another low-budget film based in Massachusetts. This time, rather than a romantic comedy centered around Boston’s subway system. Anderson has penned and filmed a story around an asbestos removal crew cleaning out an abandoned mental hospital in Danvers.
The setting is real, and the movie was filmed entirely on location, which works to its advantage. Erected in the 19th century and closed down in the mid-80s, the hospital was home to some messed up individuals. And they might still be there. David Caruso and Peter Mullan play good friends who are boss and owner, respectively, of the asbestos removal crew, and immediately tension is wrung from the men’s personal lives, even before we meet the whole team. Mullan’s Gordon needs this job very badly, due to his new baby and some marital issues at home, and he boldly outbids a rival company by promising to do the job in a week’s time. Caruso’s Phil is a bit of a hard-ass with a few secrets of his own and a chip on his shoulder for Hank (Josh Lucas), a loud mouth who stole his girlfriend. Jeff (Brendan Sexton III) is Gordon’s young nephew who has nictophobia – fear of the dark, and Mike is a once-aspiring lawyer with a good head on his shoulders and an interest in the hospital’s background.
Mike already has a decent knowledge of the institution’s history, and through him we learn some of the sordid details behind the patients who spent time inside. The place was a playground for doctors with trend-setting ideas in the 70s and 80s, including shock and water therapy, as well as some of that hypno-regression bullshit that ruined a lot of families in its heyday. Due to a few scandals, the institution was condemned and has been abandoned since, although a security guard fills the crew in on the fact that some of the cast-out patients still show up to hang out. When a worker stumbles upon audiotapes of therapy sessions with a multiple personality patient, the movie starts to move along with a potential for fright that never materializes.
Soon, Phil and Gordon are at each others throats, each obviously a bit on edge from the tension of the job and the ominous setting, and when Hank goes missing after a late night trolling for treasure in the hospital’s morgue, all sorts of questions arise. Gordon’s problems at home start seeping into his work, suspicious arise about Phil’s extracurricular activities, Mike keeps running off to listen to more therapy sessions, and some odd, possibly supernatural things (related to the tapes) occur.
The direction is pretty good, Anderson makes good use of his setting, and the excellent camera work is reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, giving the film a realistic feel. David Caruso finally delivers a good, edgy film performance and some of the dialogue fits the characters, and the area, perfectly. But the story eventually amounts to a lot of noise about nothing, when supposed clues dissolve into red herrings, and events that seem connected and scream for a payoff are revealed to be loose ends with no real bearing on the actual events of the story.
Enough with twist endings, surprising revelations and character turnabouts, I just want a horror movie to deliver some competent, spine-tingling chills, and a coherent story that doesn’t unravel. There is a ton potential in Anderson’s setting and characters, but when none of it comes together and we are left with ideas that don’t coalesce, Session 9 goes out with a final-frame voice-over that would be chilling if not for its stunning irrelevance.

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