Session 9

Session 9 (2001)
USA Entertainment
Cast: Peter Mullan, David Caruso
Extras: Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Storyboards, Featurette, Trailer

’Session 9’ is an effectively creepy thriller that received almost no attention during its brief theatrical run. Hopefully, this USA Film DVD release will bring this underappreciated movie the audience it deserves.

Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullan) and his friend Phil (David Caruso) run a hazardous materials removal company that has been hired to gut an abandoned mental institution. As the company is in bad financial shape they agree to do the job in record time to earn a bonus and soon the somewhat dysfunctional team arrives on site. Before long, the creepy surroundings and frenetic pace begin to take their toll on the workers and they begin to see and hear strange things. When they uncover the case files and audio tapes relating to an infamous sexual abuse case then things really start to get interesting. To reveal anymore here would be a real disservice as it’s best to go into this movie with as little advance knowledge as possible.

’Session 9’ is the type of horror film that relies more on the power of suggestion and suspense than outright gore to achieve gasps from the audience. The cast are all quite good and the use of the real Danvers State Mental Institution outside of Boston lends an air of authenticity that simply couldn’t have been faked. I was particularly impressed with the use of light and shadows to convey feelings of dread as some of the creepiest scenes occur in rooms full of bright natural light that quickly segues into disquieting blackness. Sure the story gets a bit thin toward the end but ’Session 9’ left me with an unsettled feeling that I haven’t experienced in a very long time (and, yes, that’s a good thing).

Presented in 2.35:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, ’Session 9’ was shot using digital video rather than conventional film. The image is quite sharp with only some minor edge enhancement and there are no glaring compression artifacts or other defects. Colors are solid as well and black levels are among the best I’ve seen for a DV movie. While many such DV projects are clearly inferior to film, ’Session 9’ shows just how good this process can be when used correctly.

Audio comes in an English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 Stereo mix that can’t quite muster enough strength to do the film justice. Dynamic range is a bit constrained with very little deep bass in the mix. Directional effects are in evidence but come across weakly and aren’t terribly effective. Horror and suspense films rely heavily on the use of sound to build tension and the lack of a fully discrete 5.1 soundtrack is noticeable and regrettable.

For a film that made only the briefest of theatrical appearances it’s a nice surprise to find that the DVD offers up a number of bonus features. First up is a running commentary with director/writer Brad Anderson and actor/writer Stephen Gevedon. The track reveals a fair amount of detail about the film and the unique shooting location but both speakers are a little too monotone to keep the listener’s attention fully engaged.

Next up is about 10 minutes worth of extended footage and deleted scenes (including an alternate ending) that deal with a subplot that was dropped from the finished film. All of these scenes play as one piece and can be watched with either the original soundtrack or Brad Anderson’s commentary.

The Story-to-Screen section offers up five split screen sequences comparing the original storyboards to the final scenes. Also included here are a number of stills of different poster concept art.

’The Haunted Palace’ is a 12-minute featurette that focuses on the real-life history of the Danvers State Mental Institution and how filming on location there proved to be quite unusual for the cast and crew. Finally, the film’s theatrical trailer is also included.

’Session 9’ is something of a throwback horror film reminiscent of such classics as ’The Changeling’ and ’The Shining.’ Common among all three films is the use of a supposedly haunted building as the primary setting, main characters forced to question their own sanity, and the slow buildup of suspense that leaves audiences squirming in their seats. Not bad company to keep for such an overlooked, small budget production.

The DVD features excellent video quality and extras but is marred somewhat by the less than adequate soundtrack. Still and all, ’Session 9’ is highly recommended for fans of intelligent horror and suspense cinema.