Brendan Sexton III
Happy Halloween! It's that day of the year again, where death and monsters are rated E for Everyone, so I thought I'd made an effort and review the scariest, most crippling film I know. Fortunately for me, it also happens to be one of my favorite movies. SESSION 9, by Brad Anderson hasn't been a success in theaters. In fact, it didn't even come close to make its money. It's not before the DVD * release that it found its audience. Some movies just can't compete in theaters without adequate distribution and sitting next to blockbusters, but once they're cheap and accessible, they will reach out to the proper audience if they are good enough and "good" is a euphemism to describe SESSION 9. It's one of the most polarizing cult movies of this century. People are separated in two camps, regarding that movie. The first camp thinks this is the most boring movie ever, where nothing happens and camp two sleeps with the light opened for two weeks after a viewing. I am part of the latter and will do my best to explain you why.
Gordon Fleming (Mullan) has an asbestos removal company, competing for a job at an abandoned mental hospital. Pressured financially by competition and the recent addition to his family, he promises the city to do the job in a record time. If they do the job in one week, they will get a ten thousand dollar bonus, which puts the crew in front of a mountain of work. As they start to work, the place starting calling the workers in different ways. Free spirited Hank (Lucas) finds a fortune in old coins, hidden in the walls by what seemed to be a patient. Law school dropout Mike (Gevedon) finds tapes of psychotherapy sessions of Mary Hobbes, a patient with dissociative personality disorder and Gordon. He's drawn into the place like no other. Apparently, the same demon that got into Mary. What is exactly drawing him to the hospital has been subject of debate among horror movie fans for over a decade. It looks simple, but Brad Anderson and Stephen Gevedon (who co-wrote the script) have scattered plenty of clues throughout the movie that are seeds for future debate.
First of all, the obvious question. Why is SESSION 9 so scary? I have my own theory about that. It's a psychological horror movie that plays on the edge of supernatural. There are many plausible explanations for the evil that overcomes Gordon inside Danvers mental hospital, both rational or irrational. If the best, most lasting horror movies feed on the fear of the unknown, SESSION 9 milks it with surprising efficiency. Not only you can never identify the nature of Danvers' lingering evil (who answers to the charming name of "Simon"), but you're also never really sure how deeply symbolic the movie is about it. Because there is evident symbolism in the movie, but Brad Anderson point in both direction that Gordon's condition is both symbolic (he's ill) or not (he's haunted by a demon/ghost). The movie ends with the terrifying Simon, speaking to Mary's doctor and yet, you never know what he really is. Whatever he is, he got away with it again and nobody is safe from him. It leaves us with the terrifying conclusion that people suffering from mental health issues, really are haunted by invisible creatures.
Another way SESSION 9 is amazingly involving is by the subtle clues Brad Anderson buried into the editing of his movies. There is a lot going on under the frame and multiple viewings will reveal its hidden dynamics. For example, the first impression you get of David Caruso's character Phil is that he's an asshole. He's the jealous partner, who can't keep his emotions towards Hank in check. But Brad Anderson employs the limited Caruso with great restraint and keeps him laconic. The movie is structured around the days of the week where Gordon's workers are supposed to remove the asbestos, and right at the start of Friday, there is a short scene where Phil predicts what's going to happen during the day. There is also a short frame that ties Phil and Hank together right in the middle of the movie. I'm not going to spoil it, part of the pleasure of watching SESSION 9 is to find those. There is also two clear allusions to ghosts, hidden in the editing. Can you find them?
SESSION 9 is both a terrifying and bold psychological horror movie that proposes an unsettling hypothesis about the origin of psychological disorders, a scary/realistic depiction of dissociative personality disorder and a series of challenging riddles to resolve. I had the most heated debated with other viewers about what kind of man really was Phil. That's the kind of detail-oriented approach that gives movie lasting power. If your fans can argue on such small plot twists, it means you have created intriguing and involving art. SESSION 9 made me a Brad Anderson fan. He has made more amazing movies since, such as THE MACHINIST and TRANSSIBERIAN as well as he directed episodes from iconic shows such as THE WIRE and BOARDWALK EMPIRE, but so far, none of it has lived up to the frightening coherence and the intellectual audacity of SESSION 9. Moviegoes who like a good challenge that doesn't wall itself in its idiosyncrasies, psychology buffs and ghost movie enthusiasts don't want to miss this. It went through a decade as a cult hit, but we'll still talk about it fifty years from now, as a cinema classic.
* Well, VHS too. I own a beat-up VHS copy of this bad boy.
I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.