Sometimes, movies fly under the radar they get lost only to be rediscovered later. Take Session 9, which had the misfortune of being released one month before 9/11. It got good reviews and even the David Caruso jokes had died off since the late 1990s.
But during one of America’s darkest moments, no one really wanted to spend 100 minutes of their lives watching a disturbing movie about a bunch of Bostonians experiencing weird things at a mental hospital. Or maybe the movie was not going to work anyway.
Session 9 isn’t a horror movie with constant jump scares and characters walking just out of frame that we only see an arm and hear that noise that always accompanies it. It was filmed mostly at the Danvers State Mental Hospital outside of Boston that was dilapidated at the time of filming. It was demolished in 2007.
Peter Mulan plays Gordon Fleming, who has his own asbestos removal company and Phil (Caruso) is his right-hand man. They meet with Bill Griggs (Paul Guilfoyle), a local government official who explains that sections of the hospital are being converted into municipal office space. Unbeknownst to Phil, Griggs offers Gordon a bonus to his company if he can submit a bid to finish the project in eight days, even though it’d normally take two or three weeks.
Gordon is also struggling in his home life, as his wife has recently had a baby and the change has affected him. Phil, himself, is in grief as his ex-girlfriend left him for his co-worker, Hank (Josh Lucas), a gambling addict. Gordon’s nephew, Jeff (Brendan Sexton III), is on the job. But Jeff isn’t too bright and has a psychological fear of the dark.
Also on their crew is Mike (Stephen Gevendon, who co-wrote the script with director, Brad Anderson), a law school drop-out who is fascinated with the hospital because of its tainted history. He tells the co-workers over lunch break that a female patient claimed that she had been part of a Satanic ritual of rape and torture by her parents and other family members. But this was all false memories reportedly implanted by staff at the hospital that helped lead to its closure.
This was the case in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mike is referring to a 1980 book called Michelle Remembers, which was discredited, after it was revealed everything was made up. The events Mike say resemble the false claims in the book. However, that case happened on the other side of North America in Victoria, British Columbia. But there was a lot of other false reports of ritual abuse, including the McMartin Preschool Trial in which young children gave false testimony to being sexually abused.
Mike later discovers a box of of recorded session involving a woman named Mary Hobbs, who had dissociative identity disorder and begins listening to them when he can. There are nine sessions recorded hence the title of the movie.
Hank also discover an antique silver dollar one day and notices more. He returns after work to go looking for more, but finds someone walking around. The next day, Hank doesn’t show up to work. Knowing Hank is unreliable, Phil tries to get Gordon to hire a colleague, Craig McManus (Larry Fessenden), who he knows will work better and faster, but Gordon is unwilling at first but decides to let Phil call him.
Over the week, Phil and Mike begin to notice strange problems with Gordon, who reveals to Phil that he got angry following an accident and hit his wife. He’s been staying in a motel until things came down, but we learn that might not be correct. With McManus coming on, Phil is afraid Gordon’s personal life problems might get out to the others in their field.
What happens next I can’t say but the movie works best because of its tone, something horror movies went noticed for at the time. It was all splatter and gore. A lot of people have criticized the ending saying it doesn’t reach a definite closure but I think that’s part of why it works. We don’t know if its the hospital affecting the people or if they’ve had these problems all along and the hospital environment is bringing them out.
The production team reportedly didn’t have to do much set design as most things were already there. Because the hospital was so dilapidated, portions were unsafe for filming and shut off. Later, many of the actors and crew members later said they noticed strange events but didn’t tell each other.
Some people have said Session 9 is similar to The Shining in tone and I have to agree. There’s an eerie feel especially when you know that mental health was treated very differently over the years Danvers was open to patients. It opened in 1878 and closed in 1992, just 20 years after Geraldo Rivera exposed how badly mental patients were being treated at Willowbrook on Staten Island, New York causing changing across the board.
A lot of places have their own ghosts. And the worst terror is how people mistreat the elderly, physically disabled, and those with mental health issues. Caruso said of filming the movie: “It was a place you never got comfortable in. It wasn’t like day three and we were throwing water balloons because it was so much fun to be there. It was always scary. You can really feel the pain of the people that went through Danvers. It’s a rough environment. It’s not fun. It’s on the film.”
So, if you’re looking for a good horror movie that doesn’t resort to gore, check this out.
What do you think? Please comment.