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Session 9

A movie directed by Brad Anderson

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Lunacy, or...?

  • Jun 13, 2012
Rating:
+3
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 unfamiliar stateside, though widely recognized in the U.K. for the eccentricities that he imparts to his roles) and co-screenwriter Stephen Gevedon.

However, the true star of this feature is not manifest as flesh and blood, nor of the animate or sentient; this picture's imposing chief presence hasn't a single line of dialogue and it does not perform. Disquiet pervades very few historic sites as it did the Danvers State Hospital, most infamous of the Kirkbride institutions established for the treatment of the mentally deranged. Danvers was a magnificent, sprawling psychiatric facility enlarged by solaria and underground tunnels to accommodate its enormous inpatient body, presumably the locale where the pre-frontal lobotomy was first administered and a costly exemplar of the Victorian era's bold confrontation of mental illness as a fearsome epidemic. Following the widespread federal and state budget cuts of the Reaganite '80s and modern propagation of humane treatments largely unfamiliar to the DSH's deplorable paradigm, the hospital was shuttered in 1992. Thereafter, it became a home to squatters and playground for vandals as it gradually deteriorated.
Nearly a decade following the DSH's closure, yet years prior to its demolition, Anderson chose not only to shoot a picture there, but to exploit its ghastly milieu in supplement of a fine (if conventional) narrative. More than its decrepitude and furnishings, the very terror of Danvers' departed lingers ineffably onscreen, and Anderson's utilization of proven psych scare techniques are only bettered by the incomparable Danvers foreboding.

Session 9's premise is simple, its plot familiar: an asbestos removal crew arrive at the abandoned mental institution to clear it of the legal profession's favorite construction material. Before long, the strained relations of this eccentric crew deteriorate rapidly, and their audience is confronted with a hoary question: is this commission host to madness, and if so, who among this lot of evidently unstable working men is truly cracked?

All of this flick's characters are stock archetypes: discomfited authority figure (Cullen), irascible working man (Caruso), obnoxious heel (Josh Lucas, already typecast as a prick after American Psycho), sullen closet intellectual (Gevedon) and youthful bonehead (perennial churl Brendan Sexton III, in a rare departure from his usual disreputable characters). Each is as thoroughly defined as their surroundings by way of ample (though not excessive) exposition, just as the Danvers facility is introduced in detail to audiences unfamiliar with its history and legacy, and for which fiction is appended to fact to expand the Danvers infamy.

In all, Anderson's achieved that to which nearly every horror filmmaker should aspire: Session 9 raises goose flesh proud and terrifies, if only for intervals of a few minutes. Much of his deliberate style and methodology are superficially comparable to those of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, though Session 9 pales in comparison with Kurosawa's best. Anderson opts to contrast normalcy with impermeable, discrete moments of terror, and does so effectively, but that chill seldom abates entirely in Kurosawa's broader scope, always lurking as an undercurrent of his most mundane scenes.

Among this picture's chief assets is cinematographer Uta Briesewitz, whose excellent photography via high definition digital video (printed to 35 mm stock for theatrical distribution) is colored by contrast nearly so lifelike as that of film, though lacking its richness of hue. Paired with Anderson's fastidious composition, their product is a very attractive movie produced with a meager $1.5M.

Since Session 9 is immaculately shot, ably performed and as unsettling an American horror flick as any of the past fifteen years, why must it wind down so poorly? During its final fifteen minutes, it casts both ambiguity and over an hour of cunningly cultivated misdirection to the wind to clumsily play its final hand after it's been exposed, and the faltering acting of this denouement reflects its ludicrous dialogue. What might have been that rarity of a truly great contemporary horror movie ends as a good effort partly undone by a hopelessly American failure to sustain obfuscation.

Danvers is gone, now - stripped of its historic status and demolished almost entirety by developers during the middle aughts to make way for apartment complexes. As usual, this is what bureaucrats and politicians in receipt of graft refer to as "progress," and their serfs are expected to grin and bear it because profit's to be had wherever suffering must be forgotten. Thankfully, Session 9 is not only a notable motion picture of its genre, but one of a few fine photographic accounts of an imposing and historied locale that's passed from institutional notoriety to the annals thereof.
Lunacy, or...?

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June 13, 2012
I really enjoyed this horror movie. Yeah, it wasn't anything groundbreaking but it sure was able to bring forth that creepy atmosphere that I really got into. I was motivated to check out "Vanishing on 7th street" which I think was from the same director because of this movie. Nice review.
June 13, 2012
Thank you. Do you recommend Vanishing on 7th Street? I know of it, but haven't seen it. If you've posted a review for it, do inform me...
June 15, 2012
"Vanishing" is the kind of movie that you can go either way. It has been awhile since I saw it, but if you want to know more, I have reviewed it.
 
June 13, 2012
OUAOU! :D Snuudles, your reviews are like honey coating pages in a book! ^-^ They're fantastic, rich and always intensely - flavoured! :D Fantastic jobbie, Snuudles! :D I *really* would love to watchie this with You! :D Great picturesie! I didn't realise that the hospital was so ENORMOUS! This looks like a lot of funsies, heehee! ^-^ Muu! ^-^ Let's watch it, soonie! :D Heehee! ^-^ Muu! ^-^

*snugglesnusbuuusles*
*rubs faceies & buuups*
*yummybabysmuuuuchies* ^-^

♥ Annusya ♥
June 13, 2012
If your praise is true, then my critical review is best likened to your smooches!

Over a decade ago, Ira begged Annette and I to join him on a morbid pilgrimage to Danvers to examine the hospital's filthy nooks remains. Assuming it barred to public access and revolting beside, we declined, though I almost regret our decision after viewing this...!

*paws*
*snugglebups*
*woogs*
 
1
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 . 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 . September 25, 2003
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
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 …
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Robert Buchanan ()
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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About this movie

Wiki

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
2001
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Details

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
First to Review

"Session 9 2001"
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