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Session 9: The Review
Directed By: Brad Anderson
Starring: David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle (II), Josh Lucas, Peter Mullan and Brendan Sexton III.
Horror is trying, trying really hard to regain the respectability it once had and this summer it seems as if the writers and directors are trying to urge the form to where it once was. We have seen successful cases like The Others and Jeepers Creepers not only work as a whole but bring in a solid audience. In the near future we have films like Joy Ride and From Hell coming out. But the trailer for Session 9 is the one that really snagged my attention.
The set up is typical but with a refreshing add-on. Five workers for the Hazmat Elimination Company take on the job of removing asbestos from the now defunct Danvers State Mental Hospital. As everyone knows now, one should not work on, in or near a mental hospital, because voices make bad things happen.
The workers on this job all have a slate of problems within their life to add to the growing tension. Gordon (Peter Mullan) plays the troubled owner Of Hazmat who has a wife and baby and he needs this job or the company is going to fold, so he promises to have it done in a (pardon the obviousness of the line) 'insane' amount of time. Phil (David Caruso) is the crew chief who mourns his lost girlfriend and can't stand Hank (Josh Lucas) who is the cocky gambler that is now sleeping with Phil's ex. Throw in Mike (Stephen Gevedon) a pretty good guy who unearths the Session tapes of Mary Hobbes and becomes obsessed with them. Finally their is Jeff (Brendan Sexton III), a mullet head who is afraid of the dark and who only got the job because he is Gordon's nephew and much needed to bring the job in on time.
The set up is fine, the location and appearance of the mental hospital is on target, everything is in place for a nice creepy little movie. Which Session 9 appears to be until you are about twenty, thirty minutes in and you realize everything is a red herring, nothing means anything and the heavy handed style of the director has already tipped you off several times to the ending and where this is all going. A little place called Nowheresville. Population, you.
The acting is top-notch, and Caruso, whom I am not a fan of, gives a great performance as does Peter Mullan but the script, the most important part of any movie, is not only a sham, it's an uninspired sham. If any of the movie is expected to be believed by the audience then the whole film is rife with plot holes, errors and just out and out stupidity.
A great looking film that steals your $12.50 and doesn't apologize for its rudeness. I don't wish to give away anything (although truthfully everything is given away early) but if you have seen this film and truly thought it was a good story, perhaps you can drop us a line here and let us know why, it would be interesting to hear someone in support of this flick.
The whole sub-plot of Mike uncovering and listening to the sessions of Mary Hobbes and her multiple personalities is pointless and ends up serving as only a weak explanation to the events that unfold. Shots that foreshadow tie ins and events are actually just thrown into mislead the audience and there is one thing I can not abide in a film. I don't mind being outsmarted or even mislead honestly but when I see the ending in the first twenty minutes and the rest of the film is meandering tripe, then I want to slap someone. Session 9 is one of the most disappointing experiences in a disappointing year.
I have taken a lot of flack over my review of this film, mostly from people, whom, since I did not agree with their enjoyment of the film ran along the lines of...you are a jerk...you know nothing...whatever. At least Brian Nourse, who does disagree with me, was able to write a sound and viable defence and it is posted below. For the fans of the movie, read this and side with Brian...and if you must be vicious in your emails to me...make them creative or at least spell the insults correctly...that's all I ask.
Copyright© Written By: Rob Paul
A Rebuttal from Brian Nourse:
You asked for it Rob so here you go... I am in support of Session 9 for several reasons. First, the digital cinematography put you right into the Danvers State Mental Hospital. This is one of the most depressing and eerie settings for any movie I have seen in years. It also was just perfect for what Brad Anderson wanted to do; create a horror film about human madness and our unique demons. The acting was fair, but was not what appealed to me, rather the larger picture in its small revelations and its punch as a whole. One large criticism from many reviewers, including yourself, is that there are gaping holes and far too many unanswered questions. I find this to be a blessing because it allows the imagination some room, while eliminating much of the improbability that can be caused by the ever-present camera. This of course is mere opinion, but not all viewers have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt...the theatre does not have to be a courtroom.
The largest problem I had with your review was the disappointment of having some sense of what was going to unfold. Surprises can be great, but are they necessary? How many GREAT movies are there where you knew who would stay alive, or which "team" would prevail. Examples: Apocalypse Now, Braveheart, Alien, etc. The surprises were limited, but when they occurred they were powerful. Finally, I enjoyed the loose link between Mary Hobbes and the team's madness. Was there evil in that hospital, or was it entirely inner demons responsible for the team's downward spiral? I truly think this film has its merits under a certain lens. If you are a viewer that likes movies because of 'that great scene', and always have to ask your fellow viewer what just happened, you probably would not like this film. However, if all details including cinematography, editing, and intent are part of your reviewing routine Session 9 holds great promise in a time where explosions and breasts are all that matter.
Even More feedback: By John Place:
I never put a movie on my "all-time" list until I've had at least a year (and multiple viewings) to consider its finer points. But the outlook for Session 9 currently places it in my top-ten. Because you expressed an interest in hearing from people who enjoyed Session 9, I will now explain why I liked it so much.
The author of the screenplay took the time to create interesting, 3 dimensional characters with real problems and (perhaps more importantly) a real justification for their many plot-oriented behaviors. For example, the security guard rambles on incessantly about the history of the asylum (an obvious, but nice plot device that grounds the asylum in its own reality) because his wife, the town historian, has undoubtedly talked his ear off about it. Also, when the would-be-lawyer discovers the tapes in the basement, we are given justification for the hours he spends listening to them: he is at a turning point in his life, considering law as a profession; the tapes are contained in a box marked 'evidence'; and his father was involved in a high profile psychiatric case when he was young. And the kid, the rookie on the team -- he never follows the would-be-lawyer into the basement to interrupt the listening sessions because he's afraid of the dark. And then there are the social interactions between Gordon and his right-hand man -- these interactions help explain the meltdown late in the movie. This sort of attention to detail is rare in horror movies. The movie goes the extra mile in a genre that generally treats characters and storyline as valueless pieces of meat for the chopping block.
From the very first frame of the movie, I was impressed by the visuals -- especially the little visual details, like the white roses abandoned in a pool of red paint. And let's talk about the sound. Wow. Sounds have an unparelled ability to frighten because of the physical responses they engender in our sympathetic nervous systems. In this movie, creative use of non-conventional sounds (like random static, and the audio distortion on the two-track in the basement) add eerie ambience. The attention to visual and aural detail indicates to me that the filmmakers were dedicated to creating a thoughtful and thorough sensory experience. It worked for me. Undoubtedly, it did not work for you, but I think it's obvious that the effort was there. In this genre, such effort is extremely rare and should probably be appreciated even if it falls short. So few horror movies even try.
Many negative reviewers have criticized the tapes, saying that they didn't make sense. To me, it's painfully obvious that Session 9 is a story of spiritual possession, and the tapes provided a necessary link between Mary's possession and Gordon's possession. When the doctor asked Mary why she killed those people, Simon replied, "Because Mary let me. They always let me." This implies that Simon has influenced more than one person. When Simon is asked where he lives, he responds, "In the weak and in the wounded," which corresponds with the common Christian vulnerabilities to possession. By themselves, these facts do not make a case for possession -- After all, Mary was crazy! But when you combine these elements with Simon's voice, which was the same in Gordon's head as it was on a tape he had never before heard, I think the case for possession is pretty clear. So then, the tapes were directly relevant to the plot, and as in many great horror movies (The Shining and The Changeling come to mind), a sense was created of horrible history and of the eternal, cyclic nature of evil.
Session 9 serves up a commentary on human nature. Simon killed those people because his hosts allowed him to -- they always do. So it is through our own weaknesses and imperfections that evil is allowed to exist. It is this commentary that satisfies me the most. In a genre that scarcely attempts to make a good movie, this one is remarkably solid and well conceived.
Behind The Scenes Featurette
Art Slide Show
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
The DVD Review:
I offer up this review of Session 9 because my fellow reviewer Rob will never go anywhere near this film again. Our disagreements over this film have caused much debate and I still would urge anyone to check it out because I feel it is a fine genre effort. That being said, let's move onto the DVD.
This is a good DVD package that the distributor has released here. First off, the interactive menus are better than average. I like menus that have neat sound effects that will freak you out in the middle of the night, if you happen to fall asleep on the couch while you're watching it. This DVD has numerous special features beyond the usual theatrical trailer. There are several deleted scenes, including an alternate ending with optional commentary. Most of these scenes involve a subplot that didn't make it into the final cut. This was a good decision because it was wholly unnecessary.
They are several storyboard to screen concept sequences with optional commentary, which show how well the director's original visions were realized in the film. There is also a section where you can view the numerous poster concepts that were designed.
The commentary with director Brad Anderson and co-writer and star Steve Gevedon (who I recognized from his stint on HBO's Oz) is extremely informative. The most unsettling thing is that the location the film was shot in is actually a defunct mental hospital just north of Boston. It is truly creepy to learn that most of the interior is exactly how they found it. They also humbly fess up to some of the inconsistencies in the film, due to the fact that they cut out the subplot mentioned above. I don't think it ultimately hurts the film that much, although I do know at least one person who disagrees with me.
A nice little touch is a short featurette called 'The Haunted Palace', which tells some of the history of Danvers Mental Hospital and it is pretty much all, including the part about the frontal lobotomy being developed there in the fourties, as it is eerily presented in the film. Cast and crew also offer their thoughts on what it was like to shoot in such an ominous location.
This all adds up to a worthwhile experience. Anderson employs a creative device to move the story forward and the location adds to whole feel of the film. I implore you to take a look for yourself and hey, maybe you can break the deadlock of opinion between Rob and I.
Copyright© Written By: Tom Servo