Session 9 (2001)

Imagine this: a ragtag group of men, each with their own personal demons, voluntarily isolating themselves from the rest of society in order to de-asbestos an abandoned New England insane asylum; the home of all sorts of barbaric treatments performed in the name of mental health. And, one by one, they gradually get picked off. Sounds like the recipe for a pretty creepy film, right?

Wrong.

Alas, this is not the case for Brad Anderson’s Session 9. It certainly starts off well; the team are introduced to the Danvers State Hospital as uneasy relationships are formed and developed, before they venture foolhardily into the languishing edifice. So far so good. There’s even a hint at the supernatural too, just to spice things up, and the asylum itself is just pure, sprawling, rotting magnificence.

This, however, is where it seems to fall apart. As the team split up to tackle the immense workload, a number of them discover their own little treasure troves left over from the hospital’s heyday; including a hoard of valuables and a collection of nine tapes documenting a patient’s therapy sessions. Now these, along with a handful of moments scattered throughout the movie, all serve to misdirect the audience into following a few different pathways to explain the murders that take place. The trouble I found with it, however, is that the large majority of these red herrings never seem to have enough substance to warrant anything more than a cursory thought. So much so that, when the ‘big reveal’ takes place at the end, I never once found myself entertaining any other explanation than the obvious one; even when other theories were presented online.

This is my main issue with the film; it poses itself as a psychological horror designed to keep the audience guessing, but the end just seems underwhelming. I won’t go into specifics for fear of spoiling it for you, but it just strikes me that, for saying it seems deliberately engineered to mislead the audience, there’s very little ambiguity about it in the end.

As with a number of both famous and critically acclaimed films including The Shining, The Thing and other films starting with the word ‘The’, the location of Session 9 is almost a character in itself; acting as a catalyst that amplifies the sense of mistrust between the team. It is, however, criminally underused. I know due to health and safety restrictions the filmmakers weren’t able to use as much of the hospital as they’d have hoped, but still, aside from a handful of shots it doesn’t actually feel as threatening as it deserves to. There’s a certain decayed beauty to it, of course, but due to the fact that the film is predominantly set in broad daylight it just doesn’t lurk as much as it should. There’s no sense that some malevolent entity (whether imaginary or not) is hiding, just out of sight, in the shadows, simply because there are no shadows in which it could hide. And for a film that relies very much on the location to build a sense of foreboding – a film whose very tagline is ‘Fear is a place’ – this is rather a disappointment.

It certainly has its moments, though; the discovery of the nine tapes is a particular highlight. They document interviews between Mary Hobbes, a woman with disassociative identity disorder, and her doctor. In these tapes, Mary intermittently switches between identities; a change of voice the only indication. We hear from the naive, child-like Princess and from Billy, an older brother figure…but both personalities are united in their fear for the mysterious Simon. There’s something very unnerving about hearing Mary’s many voices scratchily emanating from the old tape recorders, and when Simon makes an appearance it certainly packs quite a punch.

All in all, Session 9 is not a bad film, not by any stretch; it is, however, just not quite as engaging (both emotionally and intellectually) as it could and should have been. It had all the right ingredients, for sure, but in all the wrong proportions. Because of this, the resulting Session 9 pie is rather unappetising and flavourless, and just not that scary.

…I fear that metaphor got away from me somewhere.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

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