Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Month of Terror: Session 9 (2001)

Director: Brad Anderson
Starring: David Caruso, Peter Mullan

Gruesome, creepy and uncompromising comes Brad Anderson’s masterwork, the inimitable Session 9. Telling a tale of deep psychological insanity and reaching one’s breaking point, the film cycles through the present day with a group of Hazmat guys restoring an old mental hospital and ties it into a series of recorded tapes featuring a girl who has a very damaged mind. They’re unrelated stories except for the fact that the film’s main character, Gordon, is slowly slipping off the edge as the movie goes on…

This film works on a base level of scaring the living hell out of the audience, but also on a deeper level as the sinking horror of its subtle undertones sink in. The characters are portrayed starkly and simply, shown to us as regular guys doing a regular job, but in an irregular place. They’re sort of a grounding anchor in the midst of the film’s sometimes abstract and artful directing – it’s not too much in that direction, but compared to other movies, this one is a lot more obtuse, especially on a first viewing. Scenes are filled with hidden meanings and visual cues that only become apparent when you really sit down and pay attention, and there are a lot of long, lingering shots of the excellent, ominous hospital under the sultry grey skies.

Speaking of the scenery, that’s another thing that really works with this – great, creepy old mental hospitals make for awesome horror settings, and I am a glutton for anything in this vein. I can’t get enough of the empty halls and the grimy walls filled with old newspaper cutouts and photos – this is the icing on an already excellent horror movie-cake, per se. The sense of isolation these characters have is just superbly well done. And unlike P2 for instance, which was another one-setting-only horror film, this one actually works with what they have to escalate tension and drama. The tagline is ‘Fear is a Place,’ and that about sums up why the mental hospital setting works. Haunting, ethereal and unrelenting.

The main draw of the film, though, is in the psychological undertone and message of the film. Session 9 talks a lot about mental insanity, especially in the parts where one character is listening to old tape recordings of mental patient sessions from when the hospital was open. This is a film about human darkness, the inherent insanity in some people who just got the short end of the stick, who have been pushed to the brink without any hope of coming back. You don’t really see what’s happening at first, and the twist isn’t really a smash-bang shocker so much as it is a dark, unfurling sense of unease, creeping up on you as each scene plays out, until you’re completely in awe at the majesty of this darkness, this complete and total horror. That’s why I think Session 9 is one of the greatest horror films ever. If you haven’t seen this, you owe it to yourself this Halloween season.