"Session 9" is a muddle, unable to decide whether it wants to be a psychological thriller or a horror film. Its main plot elements and characters never coalesce in any coherent way so that one can reliably state the true intentions of filmmaker Brad Anderson. But a guess is that he is after a low-rent version of "The Shining", where an evil building drives people to commit evil deeds.
But nothing is going to drive audiences to see a tale of terror with so few shocks and such pedestrian writing. USA Films should realize a quick theatrical payoff before "Session 9" turns into a more viable video offering.
"Session 9" can boast of one unique twist to the thriller genre: This must be the first such film whose protagonists are asbestos removers. But didn't anyone stop to think that watching a bunch of guys removing asbestos is not a suspense builder, except perhaps for a workers' compensation in-surer?
Scottish immigrant Gordon (Peter Mullan
), who owns and operates a Massachusetts as-bestos removal company, makes a low-ball bid on the tricky job of cleaning up the derelict Danvers State Mental Hospital, an abandoned 120-year-old facility. With a new baby and a failing business, Gordon is so desperate to land the gig that he promises the town engineer he'll do the job in a week -- about half the time he truly needs.
Under these circumstances, he does something very strange: He hires a crew almost guaranteed not to get the job done in time.
Why would he hire Phil (David Caruso) and Hank (Josh Lucas
), bitter antagonists since Hank stole Phil's girlfriend? Or law school dropout Mike (Stephen Gevedon
), who spends much of his time listening to tapes of psychiatric sessions he discovers in a derelict office? Or his untrained nephew, Jeff (Brendan Sexton III), who along with his inexperience suffers from fear of the dark?
As work progresses, things go all too predictably wrong: Gordon gets increasingly stressed over the disintegrating marriage and business. Phil and Hank continually exchange derogatory comments before Hank mysteriously disappears. Mike grows obsessed over a series of tapes involving one Mary Hobbes, a multiple personality whose treatments culminated in a ninth revelatory recorded session (thus, the movie's title). And, of course, Jeff gets caught in the lower bowels of the building during a blackout.
Anderson, who co-wrote the script (with Gevedon) and edits as well, struggles to make the imposing Danvers complex with its crumbling interiors and impervious brick-and-mortar exterior into a major character. But the building simply sits there, a monument to outdated medical practices without ever acquiring the evil demeanor everyone attributes to it.
So Anderson must fall back on cliched musical flourishes by the band Climax Golden Twins
to cue viewers to suspense they might otherwise not notice. Uta Briesewitz
's hand-held camerawork is somewhat more effective at establishing a claustrophobic atmosphere. But the film never creates any true suspense, and the bloody climax feels forced and phony.
The film does serve as a showcase for Sony's 24P high-definition video camera, which represents a considerable advance in bringing the warmth of film to videography.
Producers: David Collins, Dorothy Aufiero
, Michael Williams
Director-editor: Brad Anderson
Screenwriters: Brad Anderson, Stephen Gevedon
Executive producer: John Sloss
Director of photography: Uta Briesewitz
Production designer: Sophie Carlhian
Music: Climax Golden Twins
Costume designer: Aimee E. McCue
Phil: David Caruso
Gordon: Peter Mullan
Mike: Stephen Gevedon
Hank: Josh Lucas
Jeff: Brendan Sexton III
Bill: Paul Guilfoyle
Running time -- 100 minutes
MPAA rating: R