Session 9 (2001)
"Tensions rise within an asbestos cleaning crew as they work in an abandoned mental hospital with a horrific past that seems to be coming back."
I'm sure by now you may be thinking I'm some kind of a horror nut with all the scary movies that I keep reviewing - truth be told, the horror genre has never been my thing and the urge to watch them was a more recent occurrence - something I picked up around the same time I started living solo. Deep down, I think people as a whole get enjoyment out of frightening movies because of it's controlled experience: the fact that although it might be terrifying, it's all safely contained within your screen where it cannot actually cause you harm. It's all of that thrill , without the needed risk . Session 9 is a film that has popped up on many "scariest movie" lists, and it's up to each individual to say whether or not it actually belongs there, as horror is very much a personal thing (I, for instance, am terrified by spiders even though most people would laugh or even enjoy the little brigands skittering about), but that doesn't deter me from wanting to see something that everyone thought to be so scary.
Horror in its own right comes in many forms, and is something that could be debated widely and hotly across countless hours of time. Let us suffice it to say that this movie focuses more on the areas of a psychological horror - one that makes you think and involves much mystery and atmosphere - than it does in other forms of horror. The tagline "Fear is a Place" aptly describes what they aimed for with their form of scare-induction, and now that you are aware of that, let us proceed into the mundane form of me elaborating to you my experiences with Session 9 .
The basic plot is a simple one: An asbestos cleaning crew takes on a job to clean up an old mental asylum (Danvers Mental Hospital), and thing progressively get more and more weird until the end-of-movie climax. This is not a movie of huge cast proportions, and indeed the main cast consists primarily of the five man cleaning crew - who each seem to have their own stories that tie into this main basic plot, complicating it into something much more complex capable of sustaining the mystery of the movie. Crew owner / leader Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullan) has just had a baby, and really needs a good job to keep the business afloat. With partner Phil (David Caruso) in tow, the two go and meet Bill Griggs (Paul Guilfoyle) at Danvers to inspect the place and go about the everyday task of making a bid - to which Gordon promises that a 2 week minimum of work can be finished in a single week if they can start the following week (even though it's not how things are normally done, as we are told by Bill), and Phil expresses concern over the seeming change of Gordon's normally Safety first attitude. From there the crew gets to work, with one worker named Mike (Stephen Gevedon) finding some case file tapes of a patient number 444 named Mary.
The session tapes add a nice bit of creepy atmospheric history as Mike listens to them, and provides a good feel for some of the assuredly insane moments to come as things escalate for the crew. This becomes especially apparent when Hank (Josh Lucas) , who is dating Phils old girlfriend, suddenly comes up missing altogether. The entire plot culminates in the end with what some people might see coming, and admittedly I had called earlier in the movie, although the film also does a wonderful job using the plot primarily, to cause me to second guess this fore-calling on a number of occasions - one of which I flat out responded to the movie with "What?" as I became utterly lost as to what just happened (which the movie then promptly cleared up). The pacing here might be a bit slow for some people, as this is more of an atmospheric mystery flick than it is a flat out jump-scare thriller, so it has a very long burn associated before things start to pick up (essentially, the "critical mass" is reached roughly thirty minutes from the end of the movie). Everything before that, however, feels as though it is necessary by the end, and it helps make the entire plot feel more character driven because of that slow, deliberate pacing.
Admittedly, my first thought upon seeing the characters by the five minute point was that I had stumbled into a procedural crime show - of four actors, two I immediately recognized from commercials or channel-surfing by various cop-shows. Thankfully, all these actors did a wonderful job in their roles, and managed to play of a great chemistry where it was needed. The aggression between Hank and Phil over Hank stealing Phil's girlfriend was quite believable, to the extent in some scenes you can almost taste the bitterness there. Gordon's mullet-laiden metalhead nephew gives us a character new to everything, which is a role that more of us could associate with (not knowing much about the workings of an asbestos cleanup crew or the tools of their trade) and also helps to give us a quick little backstory on most of the characters through a discussion with Hank. He also has nyctophobia (a fear of the dark), which just helps to flesh out his character more - as almost every other character also has little things that help to add to their characters and make them more human. Of course, being a modern-esque film set in a working environment, the costumes here aren't anything to shake a stick at, although the gear they do use I could believe would be relatively accurate to someone of that profession (knowing little of it, as I watched there were no points at which I thought they were being a bit "overprotective" in gear, although a few when I wondered if they couldn't use a bit more protective gear).
One of the real stealers (and makers) of the film is the location in this case. The Danvers Mental Hospital (a real place) also happens to purportedly be haunted outside of the screen, and only minor things were added for the sake of the movie (for instance, the hanging meat hooks in the kitchen). Not to ruin the movie for anyone, but it is also noted that for safety concerns, a relatively small amount of the place was used for shooting - although one would never know by just watching. The place has an eery feel that any dilapidated and old building might emit, but it is only enhanced by the general disrepair, left items (such as the wheelchairs), and intimidating features (such as the patient/staff separation caging). In the daytime, Danvers is creepy enough, but being in such a place at night, or down in the tunnel system (where suddenly you feel as though you are in a horror movie) is something I certainly wouldn't envy anyone of.
Audio wise, we are treated to a more realistic take on music - if a person is listening to music, we will hear that music, otherwise it's not uncommon to be left with just ambient audio or any dialogue / effects happening at the time. Actor lines are delivered audibly and with emotion as necessary, and the limited music only helps to instill the general paranoia of the atmosphere of the movie.
Truth be told, I didn't find this film very frightening. The atmosphere itself was great, and the actors all did a wonderful job, but it's more of a nagging horror that speaks of things more deeply rooted in the human self than it is something that will give you that cheap thrill and ensuing biochemical joy ride. I did find it to be a thoroughly well done and enjoyable movie, however, and don't regret watching it in the slightest (even if I walked away with clean trousers when hoping to be scared silly). Session is certainly not for everyone though, as I feel the need to restate that this movie has a very, very slow burn to it - but for those of you who looked at all the past reviews and wished I would do something more character driven for a change, this might be straight up your (hopefully not nearly as downright spooky) hallways.