When Brad Anderson and Stephen Gevedon visited the
Danvers State Asylum (in what sounds like an unofficial urban exploration jaunt)
they found more than a decaying old hospital – they found the inspiration for a story.
And so Session 9 was born, with Anderson and Gevedon feeding off
the haunted buildings, and concocting a tale of madness, possession, deceit and horror.
The story revolves around a team of asbestos removal contractors, working against the clock to clear the buildings
in a week. Pressured boss Gordon (Peter Mullan) has promised the impossible, bidding to complete
in a week, overruling his devious colleague Phil (Davis Caruso). With college drop out Mike
(Stephen Gevedon), gambler Hank (Josh Lucas) and Gordon’s wet-behind-the-ears nephew
Jeff (the bravely mulleted Brendan Sexton III), the team seem unlikely to complete the task from the offset.
In fact, they seem unlikely to start anything but a fight. Gordon is overstressed, shoring up a failing
business and trying to raise a new baby; Hank has stolen Phil’s girlfriend; Mike is more interested a box
of reel to reel tapes he discovers in an office, and Jeff is unable to focus on the job at hand (whilst also
being scared of the dark – a real help when removing asbestos from steam tunnels.)
Gordon becomes distracted (and possessed) by a malevolent force as soon as he enters the hospital
and Mike becomes obsessed with the tapes; an interrogation of a multiple personality patient called Mary Hobbes,
who killed her family one Christmas Eve. It is these nine ‘Session’ tapes that give the film its name,
and draw it to its bloody climax.
As a horror, the film has few and far moments, with the main suspense being carried by the warring
characters themselves. With the script being effectively rewritten during the editing, subplot
being culled and the movie’s conclusion being substantially changed, it’s no wonder that the
final scenes are disappointing and unsatisfying.
But, for the urban explorer, or asylum fan, this film delivers. The main Kirkbride building is
shown off in full glory, from the subterranean tunnel networks, through to the cells, hydrotherapy, main hall
and finally the roof itself. Those who follow the US websites which cover this building will recognise many
of the exterior and interior views.
The DVD is a must. The original alternate ending and deleted scenes allow the original film to
be pieced together – a mite more satisfying but a little more confusing. “The Haunted Place”
featurette finds crew, cast and enthusiasts talking about the hospital and buildings itself.
Mullan is particularly open, pushing his opinions in his Glaswegian drawl, and
relating two incidents during filming that he found disturbing. The no-nonsense Caruso
also reported seeing something pass by his window – not mentioned on the DVD, but accounts for his
assertions that the location left a mark on him.
Session 9 falls short of its intents, neither reaching the psychological mind games of
The Haunting (the 1963 version), the descent into madness of The Shining
nor the downright terror of The Blair Witch Project. But despite the holes in the script,
and the disappointing conclusion, the actors deliver solidly (Mullan and Caruso
in particular), and the hospital is shot magnificently in its derelict glory.
Despite its faults, it’s definitely one to seek out.