Session 9 (Brad Anderson, 2001)
[originally posted 28Mar2002]
Since Scream, America has been inundated with horror films that want to be hip and trendy. Leave it to Hollywood to overlook the hippest and trendiest of them. Session 9 is The Others without an A-list actor to lend it credibility; it’s all about atmosphere rather than shock value. That will probably turn most horror film fans off, butt he true aficionado will find a whole lot here to like.
The premise is a nice one: a team of asbestos removal workers, led by two guys with the unassuming names of Phil (David Caruso) and Gordon (Peter “My Name is Joe” Mullan), are hired to clear out an old asylum. The crew finds a series of tapes regarding a particular patient, and they start listening to them on breaks. The closer they get to the end of the therapy, the more tense things get in the real world.
It’s probably no coincidence that there are a whole lot of visual similarities between this film and the computer game version of John Saul’s series novel The Blackstone Chronicles. Certain scenes could have been lifted straight from the game, and the actors dropped in. That said, it’s probably not a coincidence that the two offer the viewer the same atmosphere, a slow, relentless building of tension. What makes Session 9 different than The Blackstone Chronicles (and The Others, for that matter), is that the right questions to ask in the game are irrelevant at the climax of the film. Whether the ghosts are all in the workers’ heads or not doesn’t matter a bit, except as post-film coffee-table discussion fodder. Anderson hands us the set of questions we expect, and then answers them with the answers to a completely different set. It’s a beautiful thing; tends to put off people who don’t like surprises (or, at least, those who like their surprises to come within a predetermined set of choices; e.g. most fans of your average run-of-the-mill horror flick), but done right can propel a film to greatness. This one comes pretty close. **** ½