07 October 2013

Session 9 2001 - REVIEW by Chris Young

According to my Netflix account I've watched at least 6,000 films and many of them are undoubtedly well within the horror genre. Such a heavy diet of monsters, maniacs and evil spirits is bound to make one jaded if not completely inured to a real chill up the spine. So when I happen upon something that not only grabs my attention from the first frame but also delivers a healthy fright, well, it's like finding out you can still feel teenage infatuation again, except without the acne.

So let me introduce you to one of my favorite unsung beauties. She's been around for a while but this cinematic wallflower seems to get her dance card pulled more frequently by the year.

I honestly can't remember what lead me to be lounging alone on the family room couch watching this particular Play-It-Now selection on Netflix. Whether it was some obscure YouTube trailer, a weblog or a Netflix recommendation is uncertain. What I do remember is the chilling pregnant silence that surrounded me after the last cryptic words spoken in the film had faded and how I hadn't felt such dread since I was a young boy staring at my half-opened closet door, staring into the dark so hard I could almost make eyes appear through sheer paranoid force of will.

The plot is simple, revolving around a stressed-out private contractor who takes on the asbestos removal of a large abandoned mental asylum. The film makes it apparent that he has a new baby and needs the job so badly he’s willing to do it in half the time of any other contractor he knows. This sets us up right from the get-go for a stressful situation inside a creepy old building with a sketchy history. But that’s not all. One of the workers manages to find some old therapy session tapes that he plays during his break time and true to horror conventions these prove to be less than pleasant.

The film takes place in and around the Danvers State Mental Hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts. This location has been used directly or as an influence in several movies, games and books. It is largely believed to have served as inspiration for the infamous Arkham sanatorium from H.P. Lovecraft's "The Thing on the Doorstep" which, in turn, was the inspiration for Arkham Asylum of Batman fame. Director Brad Anderson was quoted as saying most of the sets and props were found on location. Being his first attempt at a horror film I’m certain the atmosphere, history and readily available materials made it very attractive, and it pays off, too. In fact everything about this movie feels authentic. Best of all, it does so without all of the vertigo inducing shaky cam so prevalent nowadays. The director gives us the time to soak in the atmosphere, and the various states of confusion and paranoia that grows between the workers as the story unfolds.

The cast is top notch. Anyone who has managed to see at least the commercials for CSI Miami will already be familiar with David Caruso. Here he has a supporting role as Phil the supportive but practical foreman and does an excellent job reminding us that he can actually act instead of growling at the camera while taking off his sun glasses. But the real glory goes to Peter Mullen as Gordon, the put upon, overwhelmed contractor. I can’t think of a more perfect bit of casting for the role and even though Mullen is firmly ensconced in the “That Guy From That Thing” actor’s club, he acquits himself admirably once again as one of the cinema’s most talented character actors. In fact the entire cast is fine to great.

Is there such a category as Blue Collar Horror? If so, Session 9 should serve as the poster child. Myself being a middle aged man with a family and bills to pay, I am well acquainted with the pressures felt by the lead protagonist including his willingness to take on such an insane deadline when he is already burning the candle at both ends. I have worked myself into a state of walking pneumonia so I’ve walked a mile in his shoes and can tell you that the characterizations in this story are spot on. Maybe that is one of the reasons why I found it so unsettling.

There is one final aspect to the story that I will save for the happy viewer who has yet to experience this nasty little gem. It is a turn in the plot concerning the audio taped sessions that I found most disturbing in it’s sinister authenticity. You can make of the aforementioned final words what you will, but to others who are like myself, they will be left with a feeling of cold malevolence you would not expect from an evenings cheap entertainment.

Hell, the film even manages to make an old beat up chair left in a hallway look 8 kinds of creepy.

Reviewed by: Chris Young (@DarthDragon)

Byline: Chris Young is a professional artist, motion graphics creator and animator. He loves horror films and novels, 70’s Marvel comics, puppys and long walks in the rain. Currently he is creating pre production art for Bill Oberst Jr’s film project : ”Lord Bateman”. You can see some of his work at http://cyoungmedia.blogspot.com


  1. Reading your review makes me feel like I missed the entire point of the film. I probably did since everyone seems to love it, but I found it so painfully slow and agonizing. I just wanted it to end.

    1. I think it really depends on what each person brings to the film. If you didn't like it I understand. There are some films other people love that I can't get into at all.