Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Film Appreciation - The Weak and the Wounded

Jay Burleson returns to the blog after a long stay at the Danver's State Hospital and talks Session 9 for Film Appreciation.

Session 9
Directed by Brad Anderson
Starring Peter Mullan, David Caruso, Josh Lucas, Stephen Gevedon,
and Paul Guilfoyle

Session 9 is a film I consider to be top-notch as far as newer horror movies go. While it's more of a paranoia-inducing psychological horror, the location and the eerie way it's shot make for one hell of a good ride. It doesn't have much for gore fans, but is definitely more up my alley, as I love a good mood piece.

The film is directed by Brad Anderson, who followed this up with the more well-known film The Machinist, which starred Christian Bale. Anderson has gone on to direct some more notable films, including the 2008 thriller Transsiberian. I like him as a director, but must admit that I haven't seen much of his work. From what I know of him, he seems to be more about suspense and mood, and the influence of Psycho on the score for The Machinist was obvious.

Anderson enlists David Caruso and Peter Mullan in the lead roles here, and I must admit the inclusion of one of the most annoying TV characters in recent memory (Caruso as Horatio Caine from C.S.I. Miami) left me a little turned off when the film started. I quickly fell in love with Caruso's character in Session 9, though, and would say I enjoyed his performance the most. The characters here are all part of an asbestos clean-up team who bid, under ridiculous circumstances, on a job that involves cleaning out an old insane asylum. Thanks to their leader, Gordon (Mullan) and his ambitious bid, the group gets the job but soon find that they would've been better off not bidding at all. The film also stars Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas, and Stephen Gevedon, and even Larry Fessenden turns up.

The movie really digs into the fragile life of Gordon and his slipping relationship with all of those around him. The team he has worked with, and leads, is falling apart and people are starting to people fingers at each other. The tension only grows as things get stranger, and Anderson does a good job of letting the audience in on information that the characters don't learn about each other.

Shot at the real Danvers State Hospital in Danvers, Massachussets, the film owes a lot of its success to the location itself. Interestingly enough, Danvers is built on the same land that was owned by John Hawthrone, one of the judges in the Salem Witch trials. I'm pretty sure the place was torn down and there are some lower income apartments on the property now, which sounds like an Aslyum found footage movie waiting to happen. The location is pitch perfect, but I'm not sure how much of Danvers was actually used in the film. Apparently some of the buildings weren't safe to film in, as they were falling apart. Still, it seems like they did do all of their filming on location at Danvers, and most everything you see in the film was found on location and moved to different rooms to fit the storyline. Pretty eerie!

The thing I adore the most about Session 9 is that it's about a group of middle-aged men, working class guys who have always had similar jobs to this. Most insane asylum horror films are about teenagers breaking into them, not the fathers of those teens working to clean one of them out. It's a nice touch and a great angle. It's not a ghost story, it's all mental and will mean different things to different people. I loved the approach and even though I wasn't a huge fan of the ending, I still thought it worked exceptionally well. There are some genuinely creepy scenes of one of the workers sneaking back into the asylum after dark to play grave robber and collect some coins, and all of the sequences involving the old tapes sessions between doctor and patient at the institution are eerie as hell. Especially when Simon finally shows up.

The music by Climax Golden Twins is very spot on as well. It fits perfectly into the location and feels like something that would be associated with mental institutions in the '50s and '60s. The dread and slightly off-center feel is perfect. I also just learned that Session 9 was one of the first films to be shot on 24P HD video, and for 2001, it looks fantastic. I had never even thought about it being shot on video, so I was quite shocked to find out about this.

All in all, if you haven't seen Session 9, I highly recommend it. It can be a head-scratcher, but it's full of great locations and a very haunting mood. If you get a chance, check it out! Do it, Gordon!

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