Review: Session 9 (2001)

D: Brad Anderson
S: David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas, Peter Mullan, Brendan Sexton, III

Session 9 is one of the most ambiguous horror movies I think I've ever seen.  And I mean that in a good way - the ambiguity isn't present in what happens, but why, and it's between two equally frightening possibilities...the spiritual posession of a normal, working-class guy by a murderous demon; or the slow descent into madness of a normal, working-class guy.

The film works on many levels - the writing is great, the characters and acting are spot-on, and the couldn't ask for a better location for this type of film than the former Danvers State Hospital in Virginia.  Just the setting alone is creepy enough, and it's this feeling of dread, despair, and disrepair - not only in the building, but in the men working on it - that drives the plot of this movie.

Gordon (Peter Mullan) is an Irish immigrant who has found his lot in life as the owner of an Asbestos removal service.  Unfortunately, times are rough, and he's forced to commit to cleaning the Danvers State Hospital in a week's time, just in order to secure the money that he needs to support his wife and their new baby.  His partner in the company, Phil (David Caruso) watches closely as he sees Gordon making stretch after stretch to keep his life in order.

Rounding out the cleanup crew are: Hank (Josh Lucas), a man who seems to enjoy two things in life - gambling and making others' lives miserable; Mike (Stephen Gevedon), a law school graduate and scion of a legal eagle who feels as though he's "slumming it" in such a manual, menial job; and finally Jeff (Brendan Sexton, III), Gordon's nephew who's new to the whole experience, and just happy to have a job.

The relationships seem straightforward between these men at first, but you find out that Hank has stolen Phil's girlfriend (though when we see him at home, he's paying more attention to the television than her), Mike is considering that it may be time to hang up the protective suits and return to more intellectual pursuits, and Phil is coping with what he thinks may be his last job - not because he wants it to be, but because it's clear to him that the business is failing.

All of this human drama is underscored by the slowly-unveiling story of Mary Hobbes, a former inmate of the asylum.  Mike discovers her records while wandering through the administration offices, and opens up the box (clearly marked EVIDENCE) to discover audio tapes of the interviews (unsurprisingly, nine tracks marked "SESSION 1" through "SESSION 9"). 

As Mike delves into the mystery of Mary Hobbes, the other men are seen to succomb to their own demons.  Hank discovers a cache of silver coins, jewelry, and other items that fall out of a stone wall attached to the crematorium.  Phil copes with what he feels is increasingly erratic behavior on the part of Gordon (while at the same time smoking pot whenever he has the opportunity).  And Gordon finds the strength to admit to Phil that he slapped his wife the night that their contract for the Danvers Hospital was approved.

With a movie like this, it's hard to discuss the details of the plot, because to do so really spoils a lot of very good storyline, excellent characterizations, and ultimately the entire point of the film itself.  This film delivers on its very slow burn, and constantly has you wondering just how it will all end.  Regardless of how you view the events - did Mike unleash some form of demonic evil by opening Mary Hobbes' files...or was the entire audiotape more of a coincidental metaphor for events that were already being unleashed without any supernatural intervention?

This truly is a thinking-man's horror movie, and while opinions vary (and are strongly held on either side of the coin), it's absolutely a movie worth spending some time to experience.