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Black October 9: Session 9

October 9, 2009

I wasn’t planning to make Session 9 the ninth instalment of my exploration of my horror movie DVD collection. It just worked out that way.

This movie absolutely nailed me, strapped me down and hurt me badly. I wasn’t expecting it. All I knew was what the label on the back of the DVD box told me, but that was enough for me to rent it (and, later, buy it). It didn’t say much. A crew is brought in to clear the asbestos out of an abandoned mental hospital that might not be as empty as they think. That’s all I knew.

I am an easily distracted person. As I type this, I am listening to a live podcast and keeping track of the world on two different computer screens. And I’m focused on all those things. It’s an odd facet of my mental makeup, something that helped me in my career as a reporter and editor, but also something that drives me crazy when I’m stuck somewhere dull without a book or laptop.

Session 9 made me stop and watch. From the opening scene to the closing credits, I didn’t look away. I couldn’t. The mood is set from the beginning, a combination of gritty camera work, haunting, understated music and the kind of excellent editing I rarely notice. I could not take my eyes away from the screen as the powerful, frightening, tragic tale unfolded.

The main character, Gordon, is played by Peter Mullan, an actor I don’t know well. He’s a troubled family man with a new baby. Gordon leads the team, which also includes David Caruso, Josh Lucas and Brendon Sexton III as Gordon’s nephew, who is learning the ropes. The hospital they’re sent to is a real place, the ruins of an old psychiatric centre in Massachusetts, a sprawling, gothic pile with tunnels, outbuildings, lost rooms and decaying cellars.

Stephen Gevedon (who also co-wrote it) plays worker Mike, who wants to quit to go to law school. Day after day, he sneaks away from his work and hides in the basement, listening to the old reel-to-reel patient interviews he finds. And as he does, he awakens something in the hospital. Is it supernatural? Is it a forgotten patient, hidden away? Mysteries and secrets build as the story whips forward.

Sometimes you can see a cast loving their work. You can see that they believe in their project. Session 9 is one of those films. You can see the actors buying into writer/director Brad Anderson’s concept of a different kind of horror movie, a different kind of thriller. This is most evident in Sexton (who was memorable in Welcome To The Dollhouse) and Caruso, an actor I usually cannot stomach. Caruso proves in Session 9 that he is, at least, a two-note actor, and one of those notes is pretty good (not the one on TV). Anderson takes chances with camera work, with story, with horror cliches, and it works every single time. This is a rare example of a perfect film, and an even rarer example of a perfect horror film.

It’s tragic that so few people have seen this. That should change. It has to.

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