SESSION 9 (2001)

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Session 9

SESSION 9 (2001)
Directed by Brad Anderson
On Limited Edition Blu-Ray from Second Sight

Business owner Gordon bids for a contract to clear asbestos from Danvers State Mental Hospital, an old psychiatric hospital that closed down in the 80’s. Desperate to win the contract, he promises that his company will be able to get the work done in a week, half the time it should normally take and a quicker turnaround than others that have quoted for the job.

Winning the contract, the guys begin the asbestos abatement, giving them plenty of time to scope out the extensive building. Whilst working in the abandoned institution, one of Gordon’s workers, Mike, comes across some old hospital files belonging to a patient named Mary Hobbes. He decides to listen to the session tapes of her being interviewed by the hospital psychiatrist. With each tape, he uncovers more unsettling truths about the reason she was committed.

As the pressure intensifies to complete the job in time, so does the personal lives of those involved in the removal. When Hank doesn’t turn up for work one morning, the stress mounts for struggling Gordon, who’s also experiencing problems at home. As all the guys begin to feel the pinch, cracks begin to form at the edges… With the deadline looming, will they be able to hang on to the end?

Psychological horror SESSION 9 is one of the HCF team’s favourite horror films of the 21st century and for good reason. Blending its unnerving tale with the imposing architecture of Danvers hospital, Brad Anderson sent shivers up the spine of horror movie fans across the globe. A hidden horror gem, due to the fact the film didn’t really get a decent release at the time, SESSION 9 gained its fandom from word of mouth by horror fans so it seems only right that it gets the proper treatment of a feature-laden release thanks to Second Sight.

There’s a lot of things I love about the film but one of the strongest parts about SESSION 9 is how close-knit the film and its characters are. Here we have a bunch of colleagues who are just trying to make ends meet and get on with the job, though none of them plan on staying in asbestos removal forever… well, perhaps Gordon. Phil is at loggerheads with Hank because Hank stole Phil’s girlfriend Amy. Mike trained to be a lawyer but dropped out and found himself working as an asbestos remover. New recruit, Jeff, Gordon’s nephew, is hired as an extra pair of hands to help get the contract complete at warp speed with a juicy bonus if they meet it. But being afraid of the dark and inexperienced makes Jeff more like a child that needs babysitting when they need experience to get the work done at warp speed. The down-to-Earth dynamic of a group of guys just cracking on with the task at hand really puts the viewer at ease and creates a familiarity, allowing the audience to easily connect with the personas. However, there’s one particular character that you can’t shake off, that instantaneously instils a feeling of darkness, depression and decay – Danvers Hospital itself.

Danvers Hospital is described as being laid out like a bat with crooked wings, with the main body of the hospital being the staff offices and the wings representing the female and male section of the wards. The most troubled patients were placed furthest away from the main offices (Kirkbride building), towards the tip of their respective wings. Its creepy, giant network of corridors and steps makes you feel like Gordon and co. are cut off and isolated from each other. It intensifies the uneasiness about the place, especially when certain individuals go tooting around on their own. The history of Danvers and the awful practices that were conducted on those deemed as mentally insane seem to echo throughout the place, as though the hospital still standing is preserving such atrocities. The fresh blood entering the hospital acts as an audience for the trauma to be relived. In many ways, you could say that SESSION 9 has a touch of The Shining about it and it does have similarities with Danvers being its version of the Overlook Hotel but there’s enough here to set it apart as its own beast. The fact that Danvers State Hospital has its own real history just amplifies the disturbing nature of the setting even further.

As each day unfolds, you can feel the pressure mount and the cracks begin to show more and more. Peter Mullan puts on a masterclass performance as weary Gordon with David Caruso providing a strong right-hand man in Phil. However, Phil, though having Gordon’s back, also seems to threaten Gordon’s authority, with the two almost at equal standing, creating a bit of friction between the two when it comes to decisions being made. Josh Lucas provides wonderful support as wide-up merchant Hank. He’s like the rockstar rebel who likes to stir shit up but is clearly good at his job whilst Stephen Gevedon plays the quiet, brooding intellectual Mike who’s more interested in digging into the history of Danvers than he is on removing asbestos. Rounding off the five men crew, we have young and spunky Brendan Sexton III as mullet-boy Jeff – not especially bright but keen to help when he’s not hindering. The film also features horror stalwart Larry Fessenden as the much-talked about Craig McManus who works for a rival outfit. They all start off fairly chipper but as the week progresses, tensions rise between the group and they become disjointed. More interested in their own agendas, the group fracture as the hospital demands more and more of their time and life. Arguments ensue and distrust rises within the group, and as the audience, we question just what is going on and who exactly can we trust.

The score on any horror film is vital in setting the scene and building up the tension but the audio on SESSION 9 is altogether in a league of its own. The sounds created by Climax Golden Twins feel ingrained into the visual as though it’s the building itself emitting the unnerving sounds. Gazing into the desolate rooms and corridors, its easy to feel breathless with anxiety – the sounds effectively working in harmony with the decaying visuals to create a haunting atmosphere that chills to the bone. That’s before we even get to the sound of Mary Hobbes being interviewed on the tapes which Mike listens to in the office. Her history feels as though it’s being brought into the present as her story plays out with each recording. Each response to the doctor’s question reveals more about Mary and, in a way, Danvers as a whole, as though another layer is being removed and exposed to those who witness it.

The culmination of stellar casting, setting, sound and camera work, brought together by this seemingly innocuous story of a group of asbestos removal men, is one that leaves a lasting impression on its audience, much like the hospital did on those who passed through it. SESSION 9 is a special kind of horror movie, one that captures an uncomfortable essence of the human psyche and lays it bare.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Second Sight Limited Edition Blu-Ray of Session 9

 

Second Sight have delivered a tremendous edition of Session 9 with the limited edition, two-disc Blu-Ray release presented in a Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Christopher Shy and with a soft cover book with new essays by Charles Bramesco, Simon Fitzjohn and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas plus behind-the-scenes and location images. Both the discs come loaded with extras that any horror film fan will be excited to delve into.

Disc One includes:

Audio commentary by director/writer Brad Anderson and co-writer/star Stephen Gevedon.

New audio commentary by Mike White and Jed Ayres.

Return To Danvers: The Secrets of Session 9 (49 mins) – This documentary on Session 9 stars cast members (pretty much all the guys except for Peter Mullan), director Brad Anderson and Stephen Gevedon. They discuss how they first scouted the location with a bunch of urban spelunkers which proved that the building would be the perfect place to shoot a psychological horror film. Having such a history, Danvers unnerved the cast and crew who worked on the film during the 22 day shoot. Anderson and Gevedon explain the true stories that went into inspiring different aspects of the film whilst the actors talk about how they got involved with the project. Director of photography, Uta Briesewitz, talks about how she utilised natural light for the shoot in which she used a Sony HDF950 camera, as well as spooky incidents which happened during filming. To add the cherry on top, Climax Golden Twins discuss how their organic sound work captivated Brad and Stephen in order to be chosen to score the film.

The Haunted Palace: The Ghosts of Danvers Hospital (13 mins) – Behind-the-scenes footage from the original shoot and interviews with the cast at the time, discussing the creepy atmosphere at Danvers. Peter Mullan has plenty to say on the matter, whilst artists, authors and historians, including Mike Ramseur and photographer Jeremy Bernard, give their background on the hospital. it’s interesting to note that Danvers not only developed prefrontal lobotomy in 1948 but was also built on the site of Judge John Hathorne’s property, he of the Salem Witch Trials.

Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (20mins) – Horror movie aficionado Sean Clark visits Danvers State Hospital,which has since been converted into Halstead Danvers Luxury Apartments. Having previously explored the building in 2004, when it was still the remains of the hospital, Sean shares footage from his exploration as well as showcasing what the location looks like now. With 17 buildings built on 500 acres, it’s an impressive plot but I sure as shit wouldn’t be living in an apartment there!

Story To Screen (10 mins) – Side by side shots of the storyboard and behind-the-scenes shoot of the film versus the final cut. This featurette has the option of being played with or without commentary.

Deleted Scenes/Alternate Ending (9 mins) – A series of deleted scenes and an alternate ending, most of which deal with the subplot of a homeless woman living at Danvers, which was cut out of the final movie. Again, this special feature is available with or without commentary.

Trailer

Disc Two includes:

The Darkside: A New Interview With Director and Writer, Brad Anderson (36 mins) – Brad talks about his start in romantic comedies before dipping his toe into the horror genre with Session 9. He discusses in detail about getting the film made and distributed. A very insightful interview.

Back To The Bat: A New Interview With Producer David Collins and Director of Photography Uta Briesewitz (1 hour) – Cinematographer Uta Briesewitz had worked with Brad Anderson before on Next Stop Wonderland. She discusses her approach to Session 9, opting for hi-def cameras instead of Mini-DV as they wouldn’t hold up on wide shots. This resutled in Session 9 being one of the first films shot in HD. David and Uta are very enthusiastic about their time working on Session 9 and discuss the Danvers building and what they found inside when it came to shoot.

Invisible Design: A New Interview With Production Designer Sophie Carlhian (23 mins) – Sophie talks about her work in the film and how she wanted to remind viewers of the people that were institutionalised there. She focused on accentuating without losing the original aesthetic of Danvers and took inspiration from the building itself, such as the murals on the walls, the files they found, etc. In order to be realistic, Sophie explains how they researched on what asbestos abatement involved so that rooms and cast could be dressed in a way that would accurately reflect their role and reason for being at Danvers.

Mike’s Session: A New Interview With Stephen Gevedon (23 mins) -Stephen, who co-wrote the film and plays Mike in the movie, talks about his start in the film industry and getting Session 9 off the ground.

The Sound of Dread: A New Interview With Composers Robert Millis and Jeffery Taylor (26mins) -Robert and Jeffrey, who together make up the Climax Golden Twins, discuss their musical origins, taking organic sounds and combining them. Starting life in the early 90’s, their musical experimentation was more like an art project than a traditional music act. Though they did experimental live music and wrote music which they set to silent films, Session 9 was their first actual film score project. They talk about their connection to Stephen Gevedon and how, for the movie, they wanted to use sounds that felt organic to Danvers, as though it was the building making them.

A Twisted Collage (20 mins) – An audio analysis on Session 9 set to footage from the film. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas discusses Session 9 as a haunted collage, and the contrasts we see throughout the film. For instance, the juxtaposition of the swan murals and other pleasant, calming artwork on the walls yet the patients would have been surrounded by restraints, bars on the window and other equipment used to restrict and imprison them within the hospital.

About Bat 7854 Articles
I love practical effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Yakuza Zero and Webbed.

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