Just stay out of insane asylums. Even if you’re job is to clean them.
The plot focuses on the growing tension within an asbestos removal crew (lead by Peter Mullan) working at an abandoned mental asylum that’s already pretty freaky as it is but hey, they need the bonus money so why the eff not?!?!
Co-writer/director Brad Anderson is most known for his ultra-creep-o flicks like The Machinist, Vanishing on 7th Street, and Transsiberian, but can you believe that he never started out in that genre. Nope, this was his first movie after he did two rom-coms and it’s a real surprise now knowing that this guy can go from making lovely little tales of romance, to sick, twisted tales of paranoia and psychos. You are one, crazy mothereffer, Mr. Anderson.
Anybody going into this horror flick expecting all of these guys to go into this mental asylum and start hacking one another up into tiny pieces, will most likely definitely be disappointed. Anderson does not care about that type of horror and instead, builds and builds on the atmosphere and tension of this flick to fully get us immersed in just what the hell is going on behind these freaky, closed-doors. It’s a horror film that doesn’t show you much, but has you continuously thinking the whole time as to what the hell is going to happen next and why is everybody acting so weird with one another. There’s many answers to that question, but you still never know until that final twist comes out of nowhere and grabs you right by the throat. Anderson always has a knack for doing that, and that idea is no different here, either.
But what really sets this film apart from all of those other, spooky horror flicks, is the setting that still gives me creeps to this day. The abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital in Massachusetts is where Anderson shot this whole flick and it provides a very strange, a very weird, and a very creepy subtext for the whole film. Every single shot in this film just oozes tension as this place literally looks like it’s about to fall-apart any second now, and these guys are stuck trying to re-built it. Apparently Anderson and his crew didn’t really have to change anything up whatsoever in this abandoned hospital, and just left everything around and filmed along with it. That makes it even creepier to know that this hospital looked exactly the same before these guys showed-up, when they showed-up, and after they left. I wonder if it’s still up, cause if so, I think I know of the next place me and my buddies are going next for “haunted house hunting”. Yeah, I know we’re lame but we’re 19, what you gonna do?
However, as creepy as this setting was, something about the movie as a whole just felt off. I will say that this is one of those rare horror movies that focuses on the atmospherics but if you look at it from a real, horror movie standpoint, there isn’t much here that’s worth scaring you. Yeah, it’s tense and creepy but nothing ever jumped out at me, nothing ever made me feeling like I can’t go to sleep, and nothing really that dark or sadistic stayed in my mind long after the movie was gone. There was this one, phenomenal shot that takes place in a hall-way with the lights going out, one-by-one, in a weird-fashion, but that’s all I can really remember that terribly freaked me out and that wasn’t even what I originally imagined. Basically, you can be as freaky and creepy as you want, but you got to have some scares here and there to really keep my horror-self going.
The lack of scares, is something I put the blame on Anderson for because the guy plays it too subtle here. I get that the guy doesn’t want to give too much away and just wants this setting and story to linger-on into our minds, until we can’t take it anymore but it doesn’t really work that way here. Instead, we get way too many shots of random scenery that does look freaky, I’ll give it that, but that’s pretty much it and by the 5th time Anderson pulled this move, I was about to just give up and fall asleep. Trust me, there were plenty of other times when I could have just called it a day and dozed off right on this film, but I chose not to and stayed alive, but still, Anderson was not helping with that one-bit. So maybe, just maybe, drinking a little 5-hour energy beforehand won’t kill you either.
Thankfully, Anderson the fact that Anderson tried hard to play it low-key, didn’t effect the performances here because everybody still knocks it out of the park, much like I expected. David Caruso is good and charming as Phil Cronenburg, the guy who knows what to do, how to do it, and when to get it all done. He’s basically acting like he’s in another episode of NYPD Blue, but instead, is placed inside of a crumbling hospital, rather than the crook-filled streets of NYC. Peter Mullan is good as the weird, headmaster of this whole operation, Gordon Fleming, but the problem I had with him was that it seemed like almost everything he said, came out in a stutter or a piece of language that I just didn’t understand. It wasn’t really a problem with the film, as it’s more of a problem with him and the way his Scottish accent never really left the role. Then, there’s Josh Lucas as Hank, the d-bag that stole Caruso’s girl and isn’t as one-dimensional here as he usually is in flicks. Don’t get me wrong, the guy is still a total d-bag here, he’s just one that has a bit of a humane side to him that makes you realize that the guy is just a regular human-being, who is still a jerk none the less.
Consensus: Session 9 may not satisfy all of your horror-loving needs with it’s lack of blood, gore, and showy-presentation, but still hits it’s tension hard with an eerie sense of suspense, dread, and no clue as to what’s going to happen next to these characters and the setting they’re involved with.