Over the nearly two years that this blog has existed, I have made it clear on at least one or two occasions that my favorite horror film is the 2001 American indie work Session 9, directed by Brad Anderson who is perhaps better known for The Machinist. My revisiting of this movie last night, not only reaffirmed by love of this unconventional horror film, but allowed me to read it in a far grander way, thanks to considerably more film and critical theory under my belt than the first time around. It is one of the burgeoning works of digital filmmaking, which to some may mean it is a bit off putting because, tragically, digitial filmmaking has become sort of synonymous with cheap movies. Yet, in Session 9 the filmmaking only helps to add an aura of disturbing feeling to the film, particularly when the camera appears to simply float around scenes, as though it were entirely its own spectral spirit. The acting, while a bit wishy-washy overall does lead to a handful of very well-executed performances that add yet another level of paranoia to the films already complex plot. For a film that requires no CGI, and very minimal special effects, it manages to still gather together a magnificent array of horrors and a the minimal amount of blood and gore to help justify it being considered for the genre, despite its clear attachment to the psychological thriller genre. I am well aware that Session 9 is by no means for every person, but I can say, after this recent revisiting of the work, that it will definitively reside as my favorite horror film to date, however, I have also not seen a good bit of the horror classics so there is always a possibility of that changing in the future, all be it considerably unlikely.
The narrative of Session 9 centers on Gordon (Peter Mullan) the head man for a asbestos removing company that is trying to land a huge job at the Danvers State Hospital, a mental institution that has been closed since 1985 and has become nothing more than a place for graffiti and vandalism. After winning the bid for the place by agreeing to do the immense task in a week, Gordon brings along his diverse team of workers which includes his right hand man Phil (David Caruso), Mike (Stephen Gevedon), Gordon's nephew Jeff (Brendan Sexton III) and the rebel of the team, and advisary to Phil, as he lost his former girlfriend to him, Hank (Josh Lucas). It seems as though the job will go on with little to no confrontation, aside from the usual male pissing contests, until Mike uncovers a set of reel-to-reel audio tapes that recount the experiences of one particularly disturbing patient named Mary Hobbes, who suffered from a severe case of dissociative identity disorder. As the unveiling of Mary's various personalities occurs, so does the fracturing of the sanity of the group members, as Hank goes missing after wandering about the ward late at night. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that Gordon is hiding his home life from the crew, most notably Phil, in that he has not been spending the night at home after hitting his wife for accidentally dropping a pot of boiling water on his foot. As the voice of Simon, Mary's darkest persona is revealed, it becomes evident blatant that things are not alright within Gordon, as the group splits up to find Hank. Things come to a jarring conclusion as an unseen attacker begins to prowl the halls of the insane asylum. I would elaborate a bit more on the plot, as it is quite complex, but it would spoil far too much of the film for me to feel justified. So much of the enjoyment in this film lies in the dark ambient advancement between the days in the narrative to be ruined for the sake of my blog post.
I mentioned in the opening that the film seems to deal a great deal with notions of masculine competition, as well as levels of deceit. If there is any critical reading to be done without delving into heavy amounts of psychology, it is within this gender commentary. Gordon has failed as a paternal figure in the film and is visibly seen confronting these problems, perhaps most intensely in his closing phone call conversation during the film. However, he is certainly not the only one suffering from a shock to their male power role, Phil is at ends with Hank, not because he particularly detests him as a worker, but, instead, because he directly affected his ability to justify his masculinity through sexual dominance and conquest. Hank, also suffers from an attachment to wealth and luxury based power, something he clearly associates with being masculine. Even, Jeff suffers from gendered guilt when he begs repeatedly not to be placed into dark rooms as he suffers from crippling nyctophobia, which has all kinds of Freudian gender implications, whether they be regression to childhood or things related to the womb, regardless he begs each of the members of the party not to make this fact known, completely overlooking that he is indeed making it known to everyone in the process. In fact, the only character to not be completely preoccupied with his masculine power is Mike, excluding the one scene in which he demonstrates a lobotomy, Mike is sequestered from the group and finds joy, instead, in his discovery of the Mary's sessions. These varied approaches to masculinity confront one another in the film and at times hide, leading to an incredible climax of testosterone gone wrong that is a cinematic whirlwind. I am not certain that Anderson intends this reading, but when paired with his other work The Machinist ,it would be hard to ignore.
Key Scene: A few of Gordon's nightmares are quite surreal and scary.
I cannot express how necessary it is to see this film, even if you find yourself not liking it, its unique offering to horror cannot be overlooked and is certainly worth owning if you are lucky enough to find a copy.