Today’s review comes as a guest post from my brother, David.
Session 9 is one of the greatest suspense movies that no one saw. Filmed in 2001, the movie follows an asbestos clean-up crew cleamiing up abandoned mental institute, Danvers State Mental Institute. The team, led by Gordon Fleming played by Scottish actor and film-maker Peter Mullan, suffers from high levels of stress caused by both personal conflicts, and the deadline Gordon forced on them to get the bid for the job. Each character relies heavily on no-so-subtle exposition during lunch breaks to relay their personal stories, but far more subtle insights into their motivations from their time by themselves while on the job, and facial expressions. Something one would rarely expect from Gordon’s right hand man Phil played by the CSI Miami pose-mugging David Caruso, yet he undeniably gets one of the best zoom ins in film history during a suspense filled conversation. Sueriously, the movie is worth watching just to see the deadpan stereotype acting with emotion.
Filling out the team we have Gordon’s nephew Jeff, who suffers from nyctophobia or fear of the dark, Hank played by Josh Lucas who we find as obnoxious and insufferable a role as he always plays, and Mike, the man who winds up listening to the tapes which feature as the movie’s theme.
The suspense and ultiimate villain of this film is the abandoned hospital itself, which let’s face it, is the scariest setting for a scary movie next to an abandoned elemetary school. There’s something about long brick hallways and parallel rooms that speak to us of being trapped in a prison. As Mike listens to the tapes of one patient, “Mary”, the disturbing tale of how she wound up in the institute coincides well with the team’s slow descent into their own caustic troubles, leading to an ending which still leaves me with goosebumps every time.
One of those unsung sleepers, Session 9 as a scary movie has been getting more attention. With very little blood or gore, the psychological depths this film plumes plays on some of those great fears all people have when alone. Set primarily in the daylight, the characters’ dialogues and own personal demons force the imagination into dark places and leaves the watcher without a feeling catharsis, as though the movie is still happening and terrible things could occur at any time, which for a suspense movie is really important.
On a personal note, I spoke with the lead make-up designer for the film after seeing it, and without knowing he was involved in the project, Joe Rossi. He told me each of the actors for this film were considerably disturbed by the location. This was confirmed by David Caruso himself in trivia taken from IMDB.
He reports in the official Production Notes that he saw “something pass my window” when shooting inside the Bonner Medical Building of Danvers State Hospital. “I didn’t want to tell anybody, because people would start looking at me strangely…”
Only 3 rooms had additions outside of the natural setting for atmosphere, the kitchen had meat hooks hung, the tunnel had plastic surgical gloves hung up, and the hydrotherapy room had a metal tub added. Almost everything else related to the asylum setting was found on site as the crew scoured the building for set dressing to keep things authentic.
The film only ever used a very small percentage of the building as most of it was off limits as it was unsafe.