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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 13.51%
Average: 10.81%
Pretty Bad: 9.46%
Total Crap: 1.35%

3 reviews, 56 user ratings

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Session 9
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by Brian McKay

"The Horror genre finds a new home in the Loony Bin."
5 stars

If ever a place needed a horror movie made about it, it is the abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital in Massachusets - Something that filmmaker Brad Anderson recognized almost immediately. The place is imposing and creepy as hell. Imagine Shirley Jackson's Hill House, Stephen King's Overlook Hotel, and Poe's House of Usher, all rolled into one location. There should be a sign on the gate declaring it "The Freakiest Place on Earth". I wouldn't be caught up there at night without 3 flashlights and two priests (one young, one old) to back me up.

The competent 5-man cast of "Session 9" is mostly up-and-comers or relative unknowns, the only readily recognizable face belonging to David Caruso. Their performances, and a well-developed story, all help to create a palpable tension, but the real star is the hospital itself and all the dark atmosphere it provides.

Working man Gordon (Peter Mullan) is feeling the pressure of a new baby and marital problems, while also trying to keep his asbestos removal business from folding. The only way he can avoid bankruptcy is to win the bid for the contract to "shuck the fiber" from a former institution that has been abandoned since the early 1980's, after a patient abuse scandal closed it down. It is about to be resurrected, however, as a government office building.

Gordon wins the bid by promising to deliver the impossible - completion of the massive undertaking within one week's time. Once the job is secured, he and his crew leader, Phil (Caruso), prepare to lead a 5-man team into the bowels of the graffitied and water-damaged hospital. Even during their initial visit, they find eerie tell-tale signs of the hospital's former activities, such as "hydrotherapy" baths (where patients were strapped down and doused with freezing water) that look like something the Marquis de Sade might have thought up, and a collage of disjointed, unsettling images left on the wall in a patient's room. In addition, the field out back is littered with identical tombstones that bear no names, only patient's numbers.

When the rest of the crew shows up, the work, the hijinks, and the freak-outs really begin. Phil and white-trash slacker Hank (Josh Lucas) don't get along well because Hank is banging Phil's ex-girlfriend and telling Phil about it every chance he gets (that always makes for a hostile work environment). Jeff (Brendon Sexton III), Gordon's mullethead nephew, is the FNG on the crew, and has an acute fear of the dark. Mike (Steve Gevedon, who also co-wrote) rounds out the group as the brainy underachiever who could have gone to law school but chose not to, so that he could pursue the lucrative career of removing toxic toast.

When Mike discovers a collection of case files and therapy session recording tapes, he begins listening to them on a battered reel-to-reel found in the basement. They tell the tale of a disturbed young woman named Mary Hobbes who had multiple personality disorder, and it is chilling to hear the way her voice shifts from one character to the next. Mike's discovery and subsequent addiction to the session recordings seems to unleash an unseen evil that permeates the entire building.

Session 9 is an involving film that requires some patience, but demands your attention. It is deliberately slow at building the tension, which is driven by both character conflicts and what may or may not be supernatural rumblings. As in films like "The Shining" and "The Blair Witch Project", the presence of the paranormal is frequently hinted at but never confirmed. Are there really ghosts at the old asylum? Has the anguished spirit of Mary Hobbes returned? Or is it something more pervasive, a residual psychosis that has seeped into the rooms and corridors of the place, as well as the minds of its new visitors? Such concepts are certainly not unique to horror films, but for the most part "Session 9" is a fairly original and refreshing approach to the field. I especially found Caruso enjoyable, and he delivers what has to be the best "Fuck You" close-up on camera in the history of film.

The movie is not without flaws. While Brad Anderson set out to make an intelligent horror movie that wasn't aimed at the usual demographic of stupid, screaming teeny-boppers, it still degenerates a bit to the level of the slasher movies it tries so hard not to be like throughout most of the film. Nevertheless, the final scenes and lines of dialouge of "Session 9" are utterly chilling, and will stick with you for days. But the most horrifying thing about the film is the raw and unnerving environment of the asylum, whose on screen history closely matches that of its real-life counterpart. For the most part, what you see on screen is almost exactly what the filmmakers found upon arrival, including those rows of creepy headstones out back.

Addendum, 3/10/02 - DVD REVIEW

The DVD of SESSION 9 has a decent collection of extras. There is a director's commentary with Brad Anderson and Steve Gevedon, some "behind the scenes" shots of making the film, and a short featurette entitled "The Haunted Palace", which is based on the eerie paintings and commentary of artist and Danvers history afficiando Michael Ramseur. It also includes some short interviews with the cast. Interestingly enough, both Peter Mullan and David Caruso claimed to have experienced things in the hospital during filming that may have been brought about by the paranormal, or simply fatigue coupled with overactive imagination, but which left each of them shaken nonetheless.

In addition, there are some deleted scenes and an alternate ending which hint at the presence of someone else in the hospital. The first of these scenes are very creepy, but later scenes, including the original ending, are disappointing. The deleted scenes also come with director's commentary.

Having seen it several times now, I keep noticing more and more "clues" that I didn't pick up on the first viewings. Like the film MEMENTO, there is always something new you pick up on each time you go back for another look. There were a few directions I would have like to have seen it go in, which were not taken, and the events leading up to the ending still feel a bit too much like a slasher film. However, I like what Brad Anderson has done here. He has said that he has a fascination with what could be dubbed as "thinking man's horror", and I hope he will return to make more films in the same vein in the future.

Session 9 is a worthwhile addition to the woefully short list of intelligent and intriguing "psychological" horror films.

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originally posted: 09/16/01 11:18:44
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User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell very creepy but the script has problems 4 stars
4/19/12 TCM Great horror film! Creeps me out every time. 5 stars
9/11/10 Lovely Monsters They really buried people and marked them as NUMBERS? That's appalling. 4 stars
10/18/09 Chad Dillon Cooper This little film was hardly shown in theaters. Very good. 5 stars
9/03/09 emma Loved this film, watched it behind a cushion & slept with the lights on! 5 stars
9/26/08 Pat Creepy and fantastic. Cast is great, especially Caruso. 5 stars
8/20/07 Rogue Gallart No haunted house has ever looked so scary in the daylight. Session 9 is without a doubt one 5 stars
8/05/07 Rogue Gallart "Great movie" This is what we were always scared of as kids! 5 stars
6/14/07 pyschotic I love this movie! and have been to quite a few abandoned hospitals.....fucking superb. 5 stars
4/17/07 tony g considering you dont see anything,the atmosphere is fantastic! and grips you till the end 5 stars
2/26/07 Anders Superb in every aspect - almost as good as the Shining 5 stars
1/04/07 smita very disturbing and chilling suspense horror.films like this puts imagination back in scare 5 stars
5/23/06 malcolm suspense was remarkable but ending was a cheat 3 stars
4/18/06 marty sartwell left me jumpy and leaving the lights on 5 stars
1/27/06 Ken Truly disturbing. "Do it, Gordon, do it now..." 5 stars
9/25/05 Total Crap Awesome acting. Awesome Location. "The Shining" in a mental hospital. Spooky. 5 stars
9/15/05 Michal The scariest film I've ver seen. It left me in fever and it' not my usual reaction for mov 5 stars
7/23/05 Indrid Cold A genuinely unsettling horror movie, which is very rare. Fantastic visuals. 4 stars
4/02/05 Cynthia Willingham This movie is creepy, but done quite well. Ending needed work. 5 stars
2/19/05 NBCraftsman "An intelligent suspense/horror film with a slow-build that is executed perfectly..." 5 stars
1/18/05 Archanist_101 Not bad... !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
12/23/04 crgtnl awsome horror film. perfectly filmed and acted. i go to school right next to the insne aslm 5 stars
12/04/04 K. Sear Not a possession story but rather a tale of how the capacity for evil is in us all. 5 stars
11/18/04 psycho black dwarf fractured story left it up to viewers to piece together, only one real thrill. 3 stars
11/04/04 Mike6918 the chair is the hallway was right next to mary's room 4 stars
8/14/04 meridian intelligent script. excellent use of setting. you forgot to mention mike in the review 5 stars
7/16/04 tank1229 just awesome 5 stars
5/26/04 Mark Louis Baumgart I found the movie too slow, and the ending too rushed and too ordinary. Well, acted tho' 3 stars
1/21/04 LobotomyGuy endings fine wid me...DO IT GORDON!!!! 5 stars
1/06/04 darkofnight know a film works when you're afraid of every shadow. Fantastic horror. 5 stars
9/17/03 Amber intriguing, but left a few too many questions 4 stars
8/05/03 Nelly The movie was the shit but I didnt understand the whole chair thing in the hallway 5 stars
7/24/03 Sully I'm from Danvers...that place is beyond frightening...btw...I banged Mary Hobbs 5 stars
5/24/03 Bloody Vixen Nice the ending is spectacular and tankfully original! 5 stars
5/07/03 Terregon Kewl! Simon's first spree was in Lowell! My hometown. Not suprised. 3 stars
3/06/03 Bethe Woodburn I live near the hospital and have always been curious. A great scare! Makes you think. 5 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby The ending sucks; but this was the scariest film of 2001!!! 4 stars
11/21/02 DMBand This was truly the scariest and most disturbing film I have seen in a long time. 5 stars
10/27/02 Greyjack Would've been even better as a straight documentary about Danvers. That place is FREAKY. 3 stars
10/22/02 Mood A thinking person's horror film. Kicks. Ass. 5 stars
10/03/02 private the best i ever saw 5 stars
7/08/02 Jim More a study in psychosis (or possession) than horror, but creepy and chilling, esp. at end 4 stars
6/17/02 stoolie-bird creepy!! 5 stars
4/19/02 CAT Very Intriguing makes ya think.. Simons voice was creepy 4 stars
3/26/02 David A. I say Simon is a demon who possesses people. Your ideas are just as valid! 4 stars
3/19/02 Spyguy2 Ummmmmm......can you guys roll me some of what you are all smoking? 3 stars
3/17/02 K y L e A velly velly good film. 5 stars
3/03/02 The Knowby Warrior This movie is one of the best horror movies ever! Simon is here... - CREEPY 5 stars
2/27/02 Liz Very intriguing and scary! 5 stars
9/09/01 Albie Expected more. The hospital was very cool. 3 stars
9/03/01 Christian Very well done, could have had a better ending. 5 stars
8/28/01 Jim Dodd Aweome flick, ***** (five stars) 5 stars
8/26/01 reeko well, not bad - doesn't really fulfill in the end, but the director is on the right track. 3 stars
8/19/01 Roy G Biv Worth A Look 4 stars
8/16/01 Rob Banfitch well directed and acted but nothing of interest 2 stars
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  10-Aug-2001 (R)



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