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Session 9  

Directed by: Brad Anderson

If you have ever been to an abandoned warehouse or visited a really old cemetery or have seen MTV's "Fear", then you know what an unnerving chill one can get from just the atmosphere and the look of such places. In "Session 9", the backdrop is an abandoned mental institution and one can just imagine the terror that this setting can instill. Dirty, decadent and with the dark shadows of the occult looming in its halls, "Session 9" takes full advantage of its location for it's one of those suspense/thrillers that makes you keep thinking, "It's only a movie."

The film takes place on or around the Danvers State Mental Hospital, forsaken since 1985 due to budget cuts and what not. From the outside, it looks quite elegant, but the inside is another story. The floors are dilapidated, graffiti fills up the walls, and dust permeates the air. As one goes deeper into the building, "therapy" rooms (or torture chambers) are found and eventually one reaches the ward where the most serious mental patients were housed. Here, the rooms are almost completely dark and utterly silent. It is so quiet that you could hear your thoughts...or are they your thoughts that you hear?

The hospital has been named a historic landmark and must be renovated. An asbestos-removal team has been hired, led by Gordon (Peter Mullan) and Phil (David Caruso), and for a $10,000 bonus, they have agreed to finish the daunting task of cleaning up the entire behemoth of a compound in one week. Hiring three more guys for the job, these five men must race time to finish such an uninviting project. However, they get a rude awakening and are totally unprepared for what awaits them.

Then there is a side story about Mary Hobbes, one of the more serious mental cases who used to reside in the hospital. Everything we learn about Mary comes from recorded tapes that one of the men unearths. Mary has had a very troubled past, with repressed memories of Satanic abductions when she was a young girl. Her interviews with the psychiatrist reveal that Mary has three other personalities. One of them is "The Princess", symbolizing her innocence, while the other one is "Billy", her protector. Then there is the more unsettling voice that comes from Mary's mouth...the voice of "Simon". One can just sense the evil in Simon, but it is not until the last interview takes place, session 9, that we discover who and what Simon really is.

"Session 9" is a combination of a psychological thriller and a gory slasher flick. It has the eeriness of "The Shining" and the intimate terror of "The Blair Witch Project". The movie has its share of scenes where you just want to cover your eyes, but it wisely takes its time to build up to its climactic half hour. It is scary when it means to be scary, and I really liked it for that. The acting was uniformly good, and I also appreciated the ambiguities the film brings to us. Was the hospital actually possessed? Was "Simon" a real entity? Or was everything in the men's minds? It leaves you wondering about what really happened, and the ambiguity adds to the suspense because we don't exactly know what we are dealing with. "Session 9" is an effective thriller, however, my main problem is with the resolution of the film. It had a lot to do with the fragile mental states of Gordon and some of the other men, but we never really get to see the whole picture. Their pasts are not really brought to light effectively. I also really liked the visuals and the style Anderson uses to extract fear from the viewer, although he tries a bit too hard to impress us sometimes.

"Session 9" is not the most intellectual horror movie out there, but it will give you a good scare.

Film is Rated R for language and violence. Running time is 100 minutes


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