Well as my colleague continues to beat on with his more relatable posts about films and TV shows normal people actually watch. I’ll cover our indie quota (aka I might have a pretentious taste in movies) and talk about the, should be better known stuff.
Now with that said, welcome to our belated horror special, to celebrate this month of horror we call October. On today’s menu the 2001 psychological horror, Session 9, and why I love it, and you should see it. I didn’t really need to repeat that, as the title already says it.
Like with mysteries, I’ve always had a fascination with psychological horror. Starting from when I was a young teenager and got into the Silent Hill games (listen out for the coming static), and it mutated from there. But really, psychological is my favorite brand of horror, topping everything from the creature feature to slasher flicks. As I believe the scariest things always come from ourselves, and that’s what the genre reflects. Because what really keeps you up at night? The thoughts of a zombie munching its way through your abdomen, or the guilt over the bad things you’ve done?
To put it in movies, Session 9 is The Shining with a dash of Repulsion, but not as visually out there as either. Set over a week (and yes it even has the obligatory names of the week title cards) it follows a group of five asbestos removers as they work at a condemned Insane Asylum. Which is filmed at the real condemned Danvers State Asylum, where the majority of the film takes place. The work is hard, the personalities clash, and the weight of the place is suffocating. As in a much slower burn (yet much shorter film) than The Shining, our characters begin to crack and question what they’re doing there.
Though still fairly obscure, what’s helped build Session 9’s cult film status (a status any fucking film can lay claim to now a days), is it retrospectively has a great cast. Helmed by Brad Anderson, who would go onto direct The Machinist (aka, HOLY SHIT Christian Bale is an insane method actor). And led by a pre-cheesy one liner spewing, shade darning David Caruso of CSI: Miami fame (or infamy depending on who you ask….infamy definitely infamy), and the genuinely amazing and underrated Peter Mullan.
They and their lesser known co-stars do a perfect job filling out their somewhat stock characters into a likeable bunch. From Mullan and Caruso’s hard-boiled boss and cool right hand dynamic, to the annoying young one, the fun sleazy one, and the smart one whose a bit too obsessed with the Asylum. No one you haven’t seen before, but no one you will forget.
The reason Session 9 wasn’t a hit is a simple one. It just doesn’t have much mass appeal (or at the time, even much niche appeal). It lacks the bloodiness for gore hounds, or the jump-a-minute scares for tweens. It even lacks the out-there bizarreness of other psycho -horrors like Jacob’s ladder, or the prestige of budding atmospheric driven horrors like The Others (released the same year). But what it lacks in prestige it makes up for in fledgling filmic style. The camera is always moving, and moving with a purpose, to show and to tell, and the editing is the same, carefully cutting with meaning to foreshadow the coming tragedy.
Walking the line between true film and a bit home movie-ey, it creates a vividly oppressive atmosphere, without losing its sense of realism. You can feel the dust in the air, the sprinkles of asbestos , the crackle of old tape recordings, and the cold dark as it lurks round every corner. Though never hide-behind-your-hands scary, it’s a creepy film that rots in your stomach and leaves you infected. Even as the plot gets more ambiguous and the characters get crazier, it never loses the feeling of being just five guys doing this shitty job, just to scrape by and gets some cash. Unlike a lot of modern horror films, it never lacks or loses its human centre (cough cough Until Dawn, cough cough, I know it’s a game).
Even if it wasn’t seen by many people, it has left a long and well warn impression on those who did. Going on to inspire imagery in Silent Hill 3, specifically the hospital level, and though far from a ‘classic’ is now a well-regarded for its atmosphere, story, and themes amongst horror aficionados. And is a personal favorite of mine in the horror genre, if I hadn’t mentioned. It also features one of my most beloved ending lines in cinema, quoted in the picture below, but without the context of the film holds little weight. So SEE IT, if you want to know what it means, and afflict this haunting picture onto yourself.
It also left us with this; either a funny but completely out of place bit of over the top hilarity, or Brad Anderson can join the ranks of other great directors, like Tommy Wiseau, of unintentionally being funny when trying too hard. But I think it’s probably the former.
If you like Session 9, I also recommend.