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Mourning his dead child, a haunted Vietnam war veteran attempts to discover his past while suffering from a severe case of dissociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusion, and perception of death.
An asbestos abatement crew wins the bid for an abandoned insane asylum. What should be a straightforward, if rather rushed, job, is complicated by the personal histories of the crew. In particular, Hank is dating Phil's old girlfriend, and Gordon's new baby seems to be unnerving him more than should be expected. Things get more complicated as would-be lawyer Mike plays the tapes from a former patient with multiple personalities, including the mysterious Simon who does not appear until Session 9, and as Hank disappears after finding some old coins. Written by
Jon Reeves <email@example.com>
My husband and I had been excited about seeing SESSION 9 ever since we'd heard positive things about it from friends. Well, this chiller lived up to their praise and then some! By the time SESSION 9 ended, I felt like someone had been holding a knife to my throat for 100 minutes. I've never seen director/co-writer Brad Anderson's romantic comedy NEXT STOP WONDERLAND, but after sitting riveted and cowering in my seat throughout SESSION 9, I had a hard time imagining Anderson tackling anything even remotely lighthearted! Even when SESSION 9's blue-collar heroes exchange wisecracks, there's nothing jokey about the film; this isn't your ironic, self-mocking, postmodern kind of horror flick a la SCREAM. Speaking of lightheartedness, I knew Vin was as profoundly affected by SESSION 9 as I was because he never once leaned over and made any quips to me about anything happening onscreen, a rarity for my hubby! :-) Basically, there are two kinds of horror films: 1) the rollercoaster thrill ride kind, usually with cool F/X and inventive violence, which manage to be both scary and exhilarating at the same time (such as JAWS or SCREAM) and 2) the moody psychological thriller, usually character-driven rather than F/X driven (think HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER or THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT). (Interestingly, the original 1963 version of THE HAUNTING fit in the #2 category and the 1999 version fit more in the #1 category; but I digress...) In the more emotional, realistic horror films, you might say the terror comes from, to borrow a phrase from FORBIDDEN PLANET, "monsters from the id." FP rendered its monsters from the id in animation form, but SESSION 9 doesn't need to. There's a sense of dread from the very first frame, with an askew camera angle on what seems to be an electric chair in an otherwise empty, long-neglected room. The sharp, sudden sound effects (passing cars sound like jets in this movie!) and eerie, backwards-sounding music by Climax Golden Twins (not at all what I'd have expected from Executive Music Producer Carson Daly of MTV fame) creeped me out, too. Having said all that, SESSION 9 isn't really a film about imagery, special effects, or gore. (In fact, there isn't much gore at all until the end, and even then it's plausible, real-world kind of gore, not some kind of Grand Guignol over-the-top bloodletting.) It's a truly intense, compelling nightmare about decent people and how, under pressure, their flaws and vulnerabilities and moments of bad judgment may lead to horror and tragedy for themselves and everyone in their orbit. I want to talk on and on about this film, and yet I don't want to, because I'm afraid of spoiling the shocks and suspense for you. I will tell you, however, that the protagonists are members of a hazardous materials removal team embarking on a job at the massive, imposing, long-abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital (a real place in Massachusetts, BTW. So no, the Danvers name is not a tip of the hat to REBECCA! :-). This bat-shaped behemoth of a building is so remarkable that it feels like a character in its own right. But even before the men set foot in Danvers, the stage is set for tension and trouble. Desperate to get the Danvers job, boss man Gordon (Peter Mullan), a recent Scottish émigré to the U.S. and new father of a sickly, fussy baby, bids low and promises that he and his team can finish the job in one week. Crew chief Phil (David Caruso) is unhappy because he thinks 2 or 3 weeks would be more realistic, plus he doesn't think much of crew member Hank (Josh Lucas), the weaselly troublemaker who stole Phil's girl. Then there's Gordon's wet-behind-the-ears, dark-fearing teenage nephew Jeff (Brendan Sexton III); in one scene, he's trapped in a hallway where each light goes out in rapid succession, making it look like the darkness is chasing the poor kid. Finally, there's on-again, off-again law student Mike (co-writer Stephen Gevedon, who for some reason reminded me of a younger, handsomer, more rugged Jeremy Piven), whose lawyer dad was involved in a case that contributed to Danvers being shut down. Once inside the grim old complex, surrounded by peeling paint, water stains, graffiti, creepy old equipment, and the various patients' memorabilia from the old days, Hank finds a veritable treasure trove in the morgue's incinerator, Mike finds compelling audio tapes of a multiple-personality patient's sessions, and the place's overall eeriness begins to work everybody's nerves. But is it that the building is in some way haunted, or are the guys really being haunted by their own demons? That's the fiendish beauty of SESSION 9: just when you think you've got it pegged as a haunted-asylum thriller or a revenge thriller or a cross between THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE or whatever, it confounds your expectations. Soon you're too wrapped up in the mounting madness and suspense to sit there second-guessing. Every member of the superb cast gets you rooting for them and sympathizing with their characters (even Lucas as Hank is engaging in his own sneaky, self-absorbed way), so their unraveling has real emotional heft (unlike, say, the snarky, cocky trio in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I must admit I took a sadistic glee in watching those self-important little jerks degenerating into terrified, jibbering wrecks, whereas my heart went out to SESSION 9's protagonists). As budget-conscious parents of a young child, Vinnie and I could especially identify with Gordon; the writing and Mullan's poignant portrayal of a strong man slowly being overwhelmed by circumstances perfectly brought out the pressures of new parenthood and providing for a family. After the film was over, Vinnie likened it to HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, not only in its true-to-life feel and its raw intensity, but in that it shakes you up so profoundly that you can't bear to watch it more than once. If you're into psychological horror, you owe it to yourself to see SESSION 9 at least once. It's one of the most powerful, disturbing films I've ever seen, and definitely one of 2001's best and most unfairly underseen movies.
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