Released in limited cinemas in 2001, Session 9 is a low budget horror film set in an abandoned mental asylum in Massachusetts. It follows a team of five aspestos-removal men hired to clear out the whole building in only a week. As the days tick by, the team, lead by Gordon (Peter Mullan) become More and more stressed, while Mike (Stephen Gevedon) discovers a series of tapes that record sessions with a former inmate called Mary who suffered from multiple personalities.
Session 9 treads some familiar horror film ground with the abandoned mental asylum setting, but it effectively displays its surroundings. The asylum itself is the Danvers Mental Asylum in Massachusetts, which many believe served as the inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham Sanatorium, in turn the inspiration for Arkham Asylum in the Batman universe. It’s easy to see why, with it’s tall and imposing structures, yet it is inside the building where Session 9 holds its creepiest and effective moments.
Forgoing depth of character, Session 9 instead creates a sense of tension through the discover of the tapes, which record interviews between a Doctor and a former inmate, the last of which is titled ‘Session 9.’ These sessions often play over the action and much like the story told early on about why the Hospital was closed, serve as a wonderfully creepy overlay to the events of the film. The cast are routinely impressive, injecting some life and humour into two-dimensional characters and it’s Mullan who is the standout, creating an astonishing level of intensity with little to no substance. Truly one of the finest actors working, Mullan brings with him an intimidating charisma that is as watchable as it is terrifying.
Filmed on handheld cameras, Session 9 has a sort of pseudo-documentary feel, not dissimilar to a found footage horror. While narratively there is not a lot going on, various cutaways and the Session 9 tapes help to create a unique and invasive atmosphere, which more than makes up for the lack of story. As more is slowly revealed the audience is bombarded with seemingly unrelated footage of the area that hints at a darker and more sinister truth behind the ghost stories.
An abandoned mental asylum and a group of troubled, adolescent man-children forced to work long hours in and around the grounds. Session 9 has a classic horror film setup, but what is surprising is how it forgoes the standard hack and slash theatrics of a low-budget gorefest, instead presenting an intriguing, if somewhat muddled exploration into the human psyche. Session 9 doesn’t necessarily make the audience jump out of their seats, but there is a sense of tension and dread that will stay with you after the credits have rolled, especially with the final, chilling line.