Sunday, August 15, 2010

Movie Review: Session 9

I saw Session 9 for the first time many, many years ago. I remember liking it but I only saw it that once. Recently I've seen that people are STILL talking about it on the internet. So I had to see it again.

Watching it again after so many years is weird. First of all, I didn't know who the fuck any of these actors were. Now, I recognize all of them except the ?Irish?Scottish? dude, Gordon. Mullet-head Jeff is Warren, the CD stealer from Empire Records. He's basically the same punk-kid character, but there are scenes where he really shows some acting skills. I love the actor playing Mike, Stephen Gevedon. He's got such a great face. And, hello! He co-wrote Session 9 with director Brad Anderson. And Josh Lucas... well, he was just that dude in Sweet Home Alabama. But he's cute and funny, so I like him.

Anyway. Session 9 is the story of a group of five asbestos-removal men who go to do a week-long job at the abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital. Tensions are high within this small group. The leader, Gordon, has apparently got some heavy personal stuff going on. Hank (Josh Lucas) and Phil (David Caruso) hate each other because Hank stole Phil's girlfriend. Strange things start to happen as one of the men discovers session tapes of a doctor interviewing a woman with multiple personalities and another of the men disappears.

The doctor and Simon have the CREEPIEST voices, EVER.
Session 9 is different. It's not the haunted mental asylum ghost movie where the characters have to figure out the mystery of the ghosts or whatever. This isn't really a spoiler, but the movie is not about the hospital or the multiple personality patient, Mary Hobbes, as one might think. The session tapes that Mike starts listening to serve as a mirror to the real problem going on under the surface of these men's personalities.

The center of the film is Gordon, who is very upset about something that happened with him and his wife and their new baby. As the truth unravels, so do the men. Trust breaks down, the guys start disappearing, and it's clear that one of them is the cause of all these strange things happening (can you guess who? It's really, really, really, really easy to figure out).

Why then all the crap about Mary Hobbes and her freaky ass vocal talents? Let's analyze this part of the story, shall we? Watch out for spoilers here.

Okay, so Mary was this little girl who killed her brother, Peter, and her parents. She was told to do so by one of her personalities, Simon, after her brother scared her and made her drop her new china doll. She was committed to Danvers and a doctor with a very creepy voice records his sessions with her as he tries to bring out her other personalities to find out what really happened that day. Princess is the innocent little girl, Billy is Mary's protector, and Simon, of course, is the bad one - an extremely malevolent version of the id.

Hmmm, what's in the basement?
Mary's story, therefore, parallels Gordon's story. Gordon is Mary, Mike is Billy, Jeff is Princess, Hank is Peter, and Phil is the doctor. As Simon's last line tells us, he "lives in the weak and wounded." What I think this means is that he is that part of all of us that can lash out when pushed too far, or the part of us that we always repress that is capable of real damage to those around us. He tells us to do bad things ("Simon says") and the weak and the wounded are the ones who are not able to stop him from rising up.

The look of the film is not what you would expect. Setting is obviously a big part of the mood created. The Danvers hospital itself is described like a bat - one big section in the middle and two wings on either side. When we finally get a helicopter-shot of the hospital, it blows your mind the architecture of this place (and they were going to do the asbestos-removal in one week? I call shenanigans). But most of the scenes inside the hospital don't go how you would think. Bright sunlight is everywhere. We get a blown-out effect from the overhead lights. And there's hardly any music, and the music we do hear is very subtle. No pounding notes of terror, just a slightly eerie feeling. The whole movie also feels a little more real as it was shot on digital video instead of film.

I'm glad that Session 9 has received the popularity it has gotten through word-of-mouth. It's a nicely done psychological horror film with great actors and a setting that was made to be in a horror film. While the ending might be confusing to some, I felt it was the right ending for this story. Great movie.


  1. One of my all time faves, a well done and believable and intense approach to creepy-as-hell atmospherics. The characters are really dead-on and realistic, the location is amazing, the end is chilling, and the spooky shit is portrayed on a fairly grown-up level and isn't all tidily wrapped up in a neat little bow; Great pick!

  2. Yep, good choice... I'd forgotten all about this one, shall have to give it a re-watch (especially as I first saw it at work at 7am in a horribly sleep-deprived state.) Gordon is definitely Scottish!

  3. Wow. That was a really interesting comparison to Mary and the characters in the film. I never thought of that. I was really impressed with this movie but only saw it once, many years ago. I should check it out again. Your little tidbit enticed me!

  4. @Amanda: Thank you. I don't think I've ever enticed anyone before.

    @Oriel: Okay good, I was thinking Scottish but not sure! Hey, they mostly sound the same to me.

    @Astro: Yup, definitely agree about it not being all wrapped up and pretty - that's why I like the ending so much.

  5. This is a fantastic film! I just happened across it at Blockbuster one day and picked it up, and boy, was I glad I did!! Eerie, atmospheric, creepy as hell!
    so I ask you..."What are you doing here?"
    Dreaded Dreams
    Petunia Scareum

  6. this is a movie I really need to revisit. I've only seen it once, but I really liked The Machinist and Transsiberian.

    I feel like Anderson has real potential, but hasn't quite found his voice yet.

  7. Never heard of this movie and now I'm dying to rent it. Um, no pun intended. Seriously, thanks for posting!

  8. It’s funny that I had never heard of this movie until this past Halloween. Several of my friends and coworkers at DISH suggested that I check it out since I like psychological thrillers. I was able to stream it through the Hopper that I got from DISH. It has a Blockbuster @Home app that has a bunch of titles including this highly recommended movie. I was surprised by how bright the mental hospital was, but it still added a creepiness to it that made me terrified to see it dark. Excellent thinking with pairing the five workers with the characters of Mary’s story. I think I’ll watch it again now that I have this bit of insight. Thanks!

  9. While I am a huge horror movie fan, I really don’t understand the fuss over this film at all….. One of the things that brought me to this sight was a curiosity as to what I missed. I thought if so many people like the film, there must have been something that I didn't catch….. but apparently not.

    1. While the acting was fine, the script as well as the plot as a whole was slow and tedious. The focus of the film just wandered at times, and some of the dialogue was just completely unnecessary.

    2. Why was there any debate over the alter vs. possession angle….. I walked away after a single viewing thinking it was a malevolent spirit, and apparently that’s exactly what the director originally intended. Where was there any mystery??

    3. While it may have been an homage to movies such as the shining, it certainly doesn't come remotely close to that kind of greatness. The atmosphere in this film was at times sleep inducing. The sound design being the high point, but crushed under foot by the score, lighting, and overall look of the film.

    Please understand, I'm not trying to troll, I really wanted to like this film and was in hopes I stumbled on to a great horror gem I had overlooked. In the end unfortunately, I was very disappointed. Why in the world is this film making top 10 lists?? It certainly doesn't deserve the hype.

  10. One of my favorite horror movies of all time, i've seen it, i don't even know how many times. Hello Gordon, and What are You doing here? are in my top favorite quotes.

  11. Great movie, left me satisfied but wanting more. I have heard others don't rate the ending but I thought it was brilliant.
    PS Check out the " Atticus Institute"