The Danvers State Hospital is a mental institution that was closed in 1985 for a number of reasons, one of which being the presence of asbestos in its walls. A group of handymen led by Phil (David Caruso) and Gordon (Peter Mullan) get the job of clearing the asbestos if they can finish the job in one week instead of two. But the large, empty, old building begins to have an unnerving effect on them... what ghosts walk the halls of the asylum?
After the runaway success of The Blair Witch Project you might have expected the horror genre to be revitalised with any number of low budget, shot-on-video chillers, but mostly what we got were a few weak spoofs. However, there is Session 9, which is indeed a low budget, shot-on-video chiller, attempting to do for haunted houses what Blair Witch did for the woods.
Written by the director Brad Anderson and actor Stephen Gevedon, the film sets up a handful of characters, who each begin to show psychological strain as the story wears on. Phil is jealous that Hank has stolen his girlfriend, Gordon is having domestic problems after the birth of his baby daughter, and Mike has put a law career on hold and is now becoming obsessed with abandoned reel-to-reel tapes of sessions with a mental patient who appears to have been possessed by alternate personalities.
As little money has been spent on special effects, the film relies on the considerably creepy atmosphere of the hospital, which itself is enhanced by an excellent soundtrack. Scenes where darkened corridors are investigated are particularly effective, and an air of paranoia is carefully built up where we question the motives of certain characters and just how much truth there is in what they say.
Up until this point the only problem has been the slightly self-conscious conversations, but the ending if Session 9, where it is revealed what is really going on, is a letdown. The mystery is resolved into a horror movie cliché of mental illness (i.e. it makes you kill people) that deflates the tension of the rest of the film. Despite good quality performances from an untrustworthy Caruso and a cracking-under-the-pressure Mullan, and a strong sense of wasted lives, Session 9 lacks imagination in the story department, turning promising material into a missed opportunity. Music by Climax Golden Twins.
American writer and director who made the comedies Next Stop Wonderland and Happy Accidents, before scoring a cult hit in 2001 with the horror Session 9. The similarly spooky The Machinist and solid Hitchcockian thriller Transsiberian followed before television took up most of his time.