Monday 22 April 2013

A to Z - Session 9

Can you believe we're onto S already? Madness. Anyway, I had a whole bunch of films I wanted to talk about for S, and I spent a lot of time going back and forth between Session 9 and Suspiria. Eventually I settled on Session 9, although I'm not overly sure why. I love both films, and both have an interesting use of space, but I think Session 9 is one of those films that deserves more attention than it gets - Suspiria is bombastic enough to force its way into your consciousness. Check out this clip if you wonder what I mean.

Anyway. Onto Session 9. The film is set in the old Danvers asylum in Massachusetts - sadly only the fa├žade remains, and developers have been attempting to turn the site into luxury housing for a while now. Danvers State Hospital opened in 1878, and closed in 1992, becoming one of those alluring abandoned buildings that quietly rots without the presence of people to care for it. Session 9 was made in 2001, six years before the demolition began, and in some ways, it turns Danvers itself into a ghost, immortalising the building on screen in the way way Victorian post mortem photography captured the dead.

Peter Mullan plays Gordon, an asbestos removal expert hired to rid the building of its asbestos before it can be used for something else. He undercuts the competition by saying he can do a three week job in one, and brings in the rest of his crew, Phil (David Caruso), Mike (Stephen Gevedon), Hank (Josh Lucas) and Jeff (Brendan Sexton III), to start working on the job. Danvers soon starts to have an effect on everyone - playing on Jeff's fear of the dark, Hank's greed for money and Mike's fascination with the darker side of humanity. Gordon almost appears immune - but is he?

Danvers is probably the main character of the film, and it's a fantastic one at that, following in the lineage of the House of Usher, Hill House in The Haunting, and the Overlook in The Shining. With its labyrinth of corridors, its peeling walls and assorted asylum detritus, its strength lies in the fact that this is no set - this is real. The film intertwines the fates of the asbestos removal crew with the story of Mary, a former patient whose therapy tapes are found by Mike in an old office. He obsessively listens to them, hearing her story unfold, building up to the revelations of session nine.

Session 9 is a cross between a horror film and a psychological thriller, and it certainly had the sort of effect on me of wiggling under the skin like a splinter you can't quite remove. I've long been fascinated by abandoned spaces, and they don't come much more epic in scale than Danvers. Part of the thrill of the film is getting to explore a place you'll never get to see, and the fact it was digitally filmed lends it an air of realism that makes it all the more uncomfortable. I wouldn't say it gives it the air of a documentary, but it certainly looks more 'real' than other films. Given its investigation of some of the inhumane forms of treatment used at Danvers, it makes Session 9 a chilling watch.

I think I'll let the trailer do the talking (but ignore the dates at the beginning, they're wrong)...


Tony Noland said...

Difference of opinion on this one. I watched Session 9 recently and it didn't do it for me.

John Wiswell said...

I need to re-watch this. It's on Netflix streaming and I keep postponing a second viewing; I saw it back in high school and it did nothing for me. Yet very few pieces that lean on cinematography and atmosphere got to me back then, while now The Descent is one of my favorite Horror films. I'm betting it'll be a different experience today.

Katherine Hajer said...

Okay, now I want to see this... but I'm worried, because I'm a colossal wimp and don't handle torture scenes well (I almost walked out of The English Patient over the thumbs scene). Hmmmm...

This breadth of types of films in this blog series really makes it fun to read.

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