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Session 9

A movie directed by Brad Anderson

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So scary I never want to see it again

  • Sep 25, 2003
There are only a few films which I consider very good, but which have disturbed me on such a level that I never want to see them again. "Session 9" has been added to that short list.

Bear in mind that this means I consider "Session 9" to be a very effective, skillfully-made movie; perhaps one of the best horror films (in the classic sense) I've seen in some time. Far more genuinely frightening than "The Ring" or "The Blair Witch Project," while avoiding the "hipness" of the Scream series or "Jeepers Creepers," "Session 9" is filled with everything any real fan of horror movies can't help but appreciate. To be honest, I haven't been this creeped out while watching a movie since I saw "Jacob's Ladder" for the first time, and even that film (though fascinating) didn't disturb me on the level that "Session 9" did.

The medium of film makes the telling of a horror story particularly difficult, as a careful filmmaker has to decide just what to show, and when. A good horror writer knows when the best moment to show the monster is... or if to show it at all. In film, this becomes even more of a problem, as it is a medium based largely on visuals. Not showing the Monster to the audience can either enhance suspense or increase frustration, depending on how its handled, but once the monster is seen it is almost always a disappointment. A film like "The Haunting" (the original version, mind you, not the recent remake) succeeds because it maintains suspense through sound and great cinematography, despite the fact that we never see what's making all the noise, while the aforementioned "Jacob's Ladder" works so well because while we are given glimpses of frightening things and creatures, they are never shown clearly. What we come away with is flashes of frightening imagery, leaving plenty of room for an active imagination to fill in the gaps. As Alfred Hitchcock put it, "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."

"Session 9" is almost nothing but anticipation, but it is masterfully handled and never becomes frustrating. From the first minutes of the film to the very end, the viewer is never sure what to expect, and often expects the worst. In a particularly good segment, near the end of the film, several points of view on the story are advancing all at once, independent of one another but intersecting at key events. The level of suspense maintained in this sequence is nothing short of intense, and yet it is done while showing very little graphically. In fact, we don't find out what actually happened in that sequence until several minutes later, and even then the answers come with only subtle visuals. Like an Edgar Allen Poe story, the entire purpose of "Session 9" seems to be to establish and maintain a level of fear and uncertainty in the viewer, keeping them guessing until the very end. And this it does, with surprising subtlety.

Perhaps one of the most important elements of a good horror movie for me is effective use of imagery, a task which "Session 9" accomplishes easily. This goes back to the earlier point about subtlety and anticipation. There are a number of scenes in "Session 9" which make excellent use of imagery to this end. A shot of a narrow hallway, for example, lit along its length by several bare lightbulbs. A young man is running through this hallway, and lights are going out rapidly behind him. The darkness overtakes and engulfs the young man in a matter of a couple seconds. What makes this shot especially effective is that we already know that he is afraid of the dark. The "signature" shot of the film, a beat-up wheelchair caught in a ray of sun at the end of a decrepit hallway, sets the mood early on in the film quite effectively. Other details, such as a shape moving in darkness, or a bloody handprint smeared on a door, or the plastic sheeting covering the walls in the old asylum, are all handled well. "Session 9" is a movie of exceptional detail in its imagery.

Another important element to good horror movies is sound. Perhaps even moreso than imagery, sound can convey fear and anticipation quite effectively if used correctly. In "Session 9," there are a number of uses of sound that are notable. In the old asylum, particularly, there are noises throughout the film. It drips, it scrapes, it creaks, it echoes. The asylum seems almost to have a life of its own, with all of the strange sounds it makes. And the taped recordings, from which "Session 9" gets it name, have a subtle yet creepy warble in them, in which the voices are periodically warped. It's a small thing that added to the overall effect, but then most effective elements of filmmaking are small things. While watching this film, it's just as important to listen as it is to look.

The devil is in the details, and in "Session 9," all the skillful details add up to a devilish movie indeed. The film makes no compunction about being simply a scary movie, one which is intended to unnerve its audience, and by the time it is over it has accomplished this goal admirably. Its ending touches on a subject which disturbs me pretty deeply, which is the reason I'll likely never watch it again. However, the way I see it, that is merely another testament to the fact that it remains a deeply effective horror film, in that it got under my skin so completely. Not many movies can do that, and those that do are worthy of attention.

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More Session 9 (2001 movie) reviews
review by . February 15, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****     So according to a lot of critics, a movie like "Session 9" isn't scary; and it's sure no entertaining horror movie either. I personally disagree with any negative criticism, and I am going to come out of my shell and say it; "Session 9" is scary and rare. There are few horror films which can use intelligent scare tactics (one of which being creepiness and imagery rather than blood and gore). It shouldn't take a bold horror film to be good, but here we are. …
review by . June 13, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Lunacy, or...?
If nothing else, director/screenwriter/editor Brad Anderson possesses proven faculties for generating palpable dread and coaxing arresting performances from a gifted cast - and David Caruso, as well! For those eager to see cardboard Caruso diverge from his usual MO, this is perhaps the most ideal example available of the crime drama star's acting, and for once or twice, he's quite good! As usual, he's nonetheless overshadowed by two of his co-stars: Scotsman Peter Mullan (relatively …
review by . May 28, 2009
The Danvers Mental Hospital is a REAL, honest-to-goodness asylum in Massachusetts that pioneered and perfected the frontal lobotomy. Built in the 1850's and closed in the mid-1980's due to lack of state funding, this movie is filmed entirely(camcorder style)in the once crowded (with over 2500 patients) & still to this day, horribly sinister asylum. I must say, that the undisputed STAR OF THIS FILM is the ASYLUM, itself. The cast does a better than average job in delivering real characters, however... …
review by . November 27, 2008
Session 9
Actually only 3 1/2 stars, but I'm giving the benefit of the doubt. Fifteen years ago, the Psychiatric Hospital on the hill was closed and 2400 patients transferred or let loose. Now it is time to clean up the building, and Gordon Fleming barely manages to get the bid, promising almost impossibly quick results in order to save his business. Gordon and his friend Phil hire extra men to get the job done, including Hank, who is dating Phil's ex-girlfriend and does not mince words with Phil about it. …
review by . March 22, 2004
posted in Movie Hype
The Danvers Mental Hospital is a REAL, honest-to-goodness asylum in Massachusetts that pioneered and perfected the frontal lobotomy. Built in the 1850's and closed in the mid-1980's due to lack of state funding, this movie is filmed entirely(camcorder style)in the once crowded (with over 2500 patients) & still to this day, horribly sinister asylum. I must say, that the undisputed STAR OF THIS FILM is the ASYLUM, itself. The cast does a better than average job in delivering real characters, however... …
review by . October 25, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: The hospital, the actors, the story     Cons: none     The Bottom Line: Watch what you invite into your mind.        disclaimer - I may tell you more than you want to know about this movie so don’t get your panties all knotted up.      Had a friend call me one night, hadn’t heard from him in months and all I get is this cryptic message on my recorder [with no introduction] “What’s with …
About the reviewer
Rich Stoehr ()
Ranked #78
I often hide behind a pithy Douglas Adams quote or maybe some song lyrics. I guess it makes sense that much of what I share is reviews of things I like (or don't).      People … more
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About this movie


Few things are more sure-fire creepy than huge abandoned buildings, andSession 9has one of the eeriest buildings you've ever seen. A hazardous-materials-cleanup company has been hired to eliminate asbestos tiles and other toxic material from a gigantic mental hospital that had been shut down in the 1980s. But as one member of the team starts to nose into old files in the office, he uncovers a series of tape recordings of psychiatric sessions--nine of them--related to a notorious sexual abuse case. Soon, toxic materials and dark spirits start to merge. LikeThe Blair Witch Project(and most horror movies, really),Session 9is longer on atmosphere and dream logic than story--but the atmosphere is effectively unsettling. A strong cast (including Peter Mullan, David Caruso, and Brendan Sexton III) do an effective job of slowly cracking under stress and evil influences.--Bret Fetzer

Starring David Caruso, Steven Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas
Directed by Brad Anderson
Writers:  Brad Anderson, Steven Gevedon
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Director: Brad Anderson
Genre: Horror
Release Date: August 10, 2001
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Stephen Gevedon, Brad Anderson
DVD Release Date: February 26, 2002
Runtime: 1hr 40min
Studio: USA Films, Scout Productions, Universal Studios
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"Session 9 2001"
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