Directed By: Brad Anderson
Starring: Peter Mullan, David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon
Tag line: "Fear Is A Place."
Trivia: The movie is mentioned in the book Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz
Psychological Horror is (in my opinion, anyway) among the most frustrating of film sub-genres. Whereas most horror movies provide, at the very least, a definable external threat, psychological horror turns the attention inward, focusing on terrors of the mind, which, when left unchecked, can (and often do) transform into more tangible dangers. Yet you can never trust what psychological horror throws your way; is it real, or merely a figment of a character's imagination? The human mind is complex, and this complexity extends, as well, to films dealing with its darker natures. Session 9 is, most definitely, a psychological horror movie, and while I did find quite a bit to like about the film, it ultimately proved no less puzzling than others of its ilk.
The Danvers State Hospital, which has been closed for 15 years, must be cleared of asbestos and other hazardous materials before undergoing some much-needed renovations. Enter Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullan), the owner of Hazmat Elimination, who has promised to rid the entire facility of asbestos in one week's time. His partner, Phil (David Caruso), and their employees, Mike (Stephen Gavcdon), Hank (Josh Lucas) and Jeff (Brendan Sexton III), worry that a week isn't enough time, but the promise of a $10,000 bonus for completing the job on-schedule quickly changes their mind. As the work commences, Gordon begins acting more and more agitated, as if the building's history were affecting him on a personal level. Things go from bad to worse when Mike stumbles upon several discarded audio tapes from the institution's past, which contain the therapy sessions of a disturbed young woman. Mike listens to the tapes in secret, yet they nonetheless seem to be affecting the morale of his co-workers, who are ready to jump down each others throats at the slightest provocation.
As I stated above, there's plenty to like about Session 9, starting with the mental institution that serves as the film's setting. Shot on-location at the abandoned Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts (a building that, at one point in its long history, was called The Danvers Lunatic Asylum), Session 9 takes full advantage of the structure's dilapidated state, bringing an eerie atmosphere to every scene set within its walls. Along with the effective setting, the performances in Session 9 are top-notch, especially that of Peter Mullan, whose distanced demeanor as Gordon masks a dark secret his character can't keep hidden for very long. But the best moments in Session 9 center around the audio tapes, recorded therapy sessions of a young woman who suffered from multiple personality disorder. At the start of each recording, the woman, named Mary Hobbes (voiced by Jurian Hughes), can be heard weeping, and avoids the questions put to her by the doctors. Then, quite suddenly, a different voice is heard on the tape, sometimes that of a child, other times a young man, yet all emanating from Mary Hobbes. These sessions are truly disturbing, and leave us to wonder, as they're sending shivers up our collective spines, how they connect to the story at hand.
Herein lies my main issue with Session 9: its climax is a bit of a let-down. As is the case with many psychological horror films, too much time is dedicated to “muddying the mental waters” in order to confuse the audience, then too little in clearing them up again. Not wanting to spoil the movie for anyone, I'll just say I found the ending far too simplistic, especially when you consider all that went before it.
Yet I still say there's a lot to like about Session 9. It's a slow burn, and takes a while to get rolling, but the combination of characters and setting proves enough to keep your attention through the slower periods, and even if you're as disappointed by the finale as I was, the journey getting there is entertaining enough, and makes the entire trip worthwhile.