Cinema-Maniac: Session 9 (2001) Review

Session 9 follows a cleaning crew as they work in an abandoned mental hospital with a horrific past that seems to be coming back. The characters we followed are never meant to be viewed as humans, but rather are treated as story elements. Our characters get a fair amount of development that instead of building an emotional bond are use to create anxiety. No one in the film has an ideal life as conversations hint at their life issues. While professionally the cleaning crew are more cooperative with each other they are on bad terms on a personal angle. This direction does away with some trappings of horror movies. For starter the cheater plot point adds to understanding the relationships between the crew not becoming a revelation when nearing the climax. It also makes sense whenever characters react to the situation given their relationship and their job priorities. Another right choice is the inclusion of the backstory given to the setting. Becoming more than just the place where the story takes place. Understanding what activity occurred in the mental hospital, an overview of the kind of patients that were instituted, and how it came to be abandoned. Surrounding it setting in another reality that the characters both accept it existence and refusal to acknowledge anything supernatural.

Incorporating an abundance of paranoia elements that are further reinforced with it setting. A mental hospital that said to have experimented on patients, and hearing dialogue of old therapy sessions. Allowing it to work thematically in two ways; one being the recordings are only heard therefore it’s possible that the patient has a split personality or there are many patients in these therapy sessions. Building a vague bridge that connects with the possibility of greater force beyond our comprehension without distancing the story from reality. Second reason for these recording working is the amount of depth given to the backstory. There is a patient that reappears in the story and virtually all the recordings that are played are from her various sessions. We get the full picture of the victim story that adds to the debate of how much of presented to us is grounded in reality. However, the script does have it problems like mention before the characters are story tools and never actual people. The development given to them while breaking some conventions are given little personality. Characters that never show up on screen have more depth than the characters we follow. Another issue is the ending presents a theme, but not character conclusions. It just a means to an end to express an idea not so much as to tell a story that ends on all two traditional note compared to it’s non traditional build up.

Filmed on handheld cameras sporting a sort of pseudo-documentary feel, not dissimilar to a found footage horror. Attempting to come across as one of those old therapy sessions that was videotaped. The quality of the video is sharp, although it looks extremely unnatural. Much like one of the characters in this film, the video just seeps into you like it’s possessing you. At first, the look is off-putting, but as you get further and further into the movie, you begin to accept its presence as if it’s been with you the entire time. As more is slowly revealed the audience is bombarded with seemingly unrelated footage of the area that hints at a darker and more sinister truth behind the ghost stories. Brad Anderson takes his time in telling the story therefore familiarizing the audience with the unsettling hospital. Even with shadow filled room our vision is never obscured. With its twisting hallways and dark basement passages, it clearly personifies the proverbial house of the damned. Anderson does a superb job in dealing with spatial relations in the film making some rooms ominously large, while others are claustrophobic and tiny. The cast are routinely impressive, injecting some life and humour into two-dimensional characters and it’s Mullan who is the standout, creating an astonishing level of intensity with little to no substance. Peter Mullan subtly suggests a growing disengagement from reality while David Caruso is a mix of hooky fun and leering creepiness. Josh Lucas handles a variety of different personalities sloppily. He’s the most underwhelming of the cast. Brandon Sexton never becomes his character due to his lack of showing much range, but makes it count when it comes to the horror centered scenes being consumed by fear.

Session 9 is an atmospheric horror movie that builds a tension instead of a body count. Brad Anderson slow pacing allows time for themes to materialize and let the viewer become familiar with the not so comfortable mental hospital. While the characters are never sympathetic nor are they memorable in the slightest they do breakaway from conventions. It avoids some horror film trappings in the first two acts it builds up to the climax. Ending on a final act that is more traditional and less thought out than the journey. It doesn’t end as strongly as it begins, but it’s a horror film that knows how to engross the viewer into its mentality.

7/10

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