A very unnerving and underrated psychological horror film, Session 9 knows how to chill the audience and craft a compelling story populated by flawed yet fascinating characters.
Gordon Fleming( Peter Mullan) is the owner of an asbestos removal company who is having a rough time of things. He’s recently become a father but doesn’t seem entirely thrilled at this and his relationship with his wife seems more than a little strained. In a desperate need for money to support himself as he starts to become a bit unglued in life, he takes on the job of cleaning out a now uninhabited former mental asylum. Gordon, who is known for his cool efficiency, promises to complete the vast job in just a week. This is despite the fact that the job is actually one that should take a number of weeks. He brings along good friend and resident intense bossy boots Phil,( David Caruso), nasty mouthed and greedy Hank, knowledgable law school drop out Mike (Stephen Gevedon) and Gordon’s green nephew Jeff( Brendan Sexton III) , who has a fear of the dark. Each of them is wrestling with something( a big bone of contention is the fact that Phil’s ex girlfriend is now with the cocky Hank) but decide to just get the job done as quickly as possibly. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen as something sinister takes over the asylum As the week goes on, tensions begin to rise between the men as the former asylum begins to take a dangerous hold over them. Gordon in particular comes under immense anguish as his already tenuous situation and anxieties manifest, along with the rest of the crew. In parallel, Mike discovers an old room in the vast building that house cassette tapes of psychiatric evaluations with a former patient named Mary Hobbes. We hear that she has multiple personalities and that something horrifying happened years ago. Mike becomes obsessed with listening to the nine tapes that slowly peel back the horror of the asylum. As we witness the fraying of relationships, darkness and all manner of horror descend on the feuding group and puts them in grave danger, in particular a close to breaking point Gordon.
Brad Anderson is fantastic in the directors chair; he clearly knows how to unsettle without being too in your face and his focus on character development is to be admired. His skills in forming a mystery that takes you along with it while scaring you in sophisticated ways is to be praised too. The running discovery of psychiatric session tapes that bleed into the present and often accompany shots of the crew are mesmerising and keep you glued. Session 9 is a horror movie that has only a couple of grisly moments; Anderson instead discovers fear and shock through the unexplained and mystery surrounding events in true psychological horror style. As I’ve often said in regards to effective horror, you don’t need gallons of blood to scare an audience, just an eerie idea executed to a great level of suspense can do it. And Session 9 more than does that with its chills getting more intense as things progress.
It’s in the characters, atmosphere and script that Session 9 derives it’s scares with its delving into psychological animosity between the men and how they unravel my a gradually more terrifying series of events. The seething anger, resentments and bruised egos all come through as these men struggle to accept their vulnerable state by using bravado but failing to fully comprehend the horror ahead. An intriguing comparison can be made between the toxic nature of their job in cleaning asbestos and the toxic masculinity that they each exhibit in one form or another. The use of titles to signify the week going along And one can’t speak of Session 9 without mentioning its location which is in actual fact a real life mental asylum by the name of Danvers State Mental Hospital that is not in use but nonetheless adds to the creepy dimension of the piece. It’s large, looming stature and the effective way that a lot of it is shot in the daytime to further emphasise uneasiness. As the bright light streams through the old windows, it feels very chilling and a reverse of the usual all bad things happen in the dark adage. Granted, scary things do happen in the dark in Session 9( watch as poor Jeff who has a fear of the dark has to run for his life , but the overall consistency of the ambience in daylight really does amazing things for this movie. And it really gets you thinking once you know that the location is in fact a real place where unspeakable things in less enlightened times happened and digs deep under the skin of the viewer. The dissonant, mood-setting score aids the spooky and deeply creepy exercise in terror with the fleeting of a piano and ominous punctuation highlighting the creep actor and raising it considerably.
The relatively small cast is exceptional at displaying the slowly unravelling minds of the characters. Peter Mullan is the big standout with an immensely convincing and harrowing performance as a man on the edge. Mullan possesses a face that speaks volumes about life and experience and that perfectly suits the role of Gordon. You can practically feel his world starting to fall apart and his futile attempts to prove he’s strong shattering as darkness descends on him. It’s a truly excellent piece of acting from the ever dependable Mullan. David Caruso also is memorable as the second in command who bristles with belligerence and a sense of entitled authority. He’s often at odds with the other characters which adds even more to the drama in Session 9. Josh Lucas relishes playing the cocky and sneaky worker who can’t resist rubbing up people the wrong way, while having a get out plan when times get tough. Stephen Gevedon, who is a co-writer along with Brad Anderson, imbues his role with smarts and deep curiosity, while Brendan Sexton III portrays the most inexperienced member of the group with a childlike want to please and be part of something that eventually becomes toxic.
Very spooky and deeply unsettling, with a great emphasis on characters, Session 9 is an underrated psychological horror you simply must watch.