Session 9 (2001)
By: Dr. Obrero  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Inter-continental Video limited (Hong Kong). Region 3, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 5.1. English, Chinese Subtitles. 99 mins
The Movie
Director: Brad Anderson
Starring: David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas, Peter Mullan, Brendan Sexton III.
Screenplay: Brad Anderson, Stephen Gevedon
Tagline: Fear is a place
Country: USA
Creepy little no-budget thriller in the mould of The Blair Witch Project. An asbestos cleaning crew find its latest job, hired to clean up toxic material from an abandoned, monolithic old mental hospital with a horrific past more than they bargained for when the insanity that resided within the walls seems to be coming back to haunt them. Seems it had been shut down in the 1980's and abandoned since then. As the team becomes increasingly fractured and fractious, cracking under stress and pervasive evil influences, one inquisitive member unearths a series of files and nine tape recordings of psychiatric sessions related to a notorious schizophrenia case, and the emergence of one 'Billy' during climactic session number nine proves the portent for spirits to emerge from the inky blackness within the building's soul.

Clever psychological thriller is longer on atmosphere than logic, but the story serves its purpose well enough. The atmosphere is effectively unsettling, especially during the last third when an authentic overtone of dread is tangible throughout the eerie building and a sense of fear palpable through the team. Shot on digital video (excellent cinematography by Uta Briesewetz) at an actual empty asylum in Danvers, MA, Session 9 is a well written, convincingly played (by a strong ensemble cast including Peter Mullan, David Caruso, and Brendan Sexton III) and impressively directed minor league creepshow. The measured pace, spooky visuals, solid well-acted drama and sinister score invite favourable comparisons to not only the Myrick/Sanchez phenomenon, but also with Peter Medak's genuinely frightening The Changeling. Session 9 is an efficient disturbing little gem.
A dark film, Session 9 is intentionally grainy and shot digital video for very little money, so expectations for this non-16x9 enhanced disc were not too high. I'm happy to say it looks absolutely fine. Presenting the film 1.33:1 (4:3), as opposed to USA Home Video's R1 anamorphic 1.85:1 edition, the presentation is not widescreen, but is still perfectly acceptable. I could discern no notable evidence of cropping or compromised cinematography. Black level is decent, colours are well saturated if intentionally muted, and detail is good. The stylised look of the film tends towards over contrast, and this being a non-anamorphic transfer, shadow detail is a bit murky and the colours can appear too saturated occasionally, but overall this transfer remains true to the intent of the filmmakers. Flesh tones appear natural and shadow delineation is fine. There is no sign of compression artefacts or edge enhancement, a few mildly distracting blemishes surface once in a while, though nothing too severe. Considering source of this DVD, and the way Session 9 was filmed the DVD presentation exceeded my expectations.
While the image is a bit below par for the format, the soundtrack is terrific. Presented in English 5.1 Dolby Digital surround, it's an aggressive mix throughout. Surrounds are very active with nice discreet effects and good sidewall imaging. The front soundstage is very wide with strong spatiality adding to the sense of envelopment and ambiance. Dynamic range is very wide, and low end is quite strong and tight. Music, effects and dialogue are all very well-balanced with clever, subtle use of underscore really benefiting the aural presentation. A very, very good track.
Extra Features
The Region 1 DVD includes additional material including deleted scenes and an alternate ending (with director's commentary) which hint at the presence of someone else in the hospital, a mysterious woman. These hint at the presence of Mary Hobbes as a ghost. But the ultimate revelation is of an insane homeless woman who has been squatting in the institution. The scenes were taken out, according to Anderson, for "streamlining", and because test audiences were confusing the woman with Mary Hobbes. The deleted scenes would have been a good addition to the film, had the woman been left as mysterious, inviting the audience to draw its own conclusions. Other supplements on the Region 1 DVD are a screen-specific director's commentary with Brad Anderson and Steve Gevedon, assorted "behind the scenes" making-of shots and a short featurette entitled "The Haunted Palace", which is based on the eerie paintings and commentary of artist and Danvers history aficionado Michael Ramseur. Additionally, there are some short interviews with the cast which reveal that both Peter Mullan and David Caruso claim to have experienced paranormal occurrences in the hospital during filming which left them shaken. So, having said all that, what does the Region 3 DVD offer up as supplemental material? Well, nothing actually, not a single thing. Yes, in one sense that is a disgrace, but as we all know, Region 3 discs are the 'cheap' options (for the most part) and are consequently light on extras. So it comes as little surprise, but still disappoints a tad. The lack of even a couple of pointless trailers for other R3 releases is unusual, but not entirely unwelcome since they're a waste of (DVD) space anyway.
The Verdict
The film is a "4", the DVD a "2", so the fairest overall rating is a compromise. Having not seen it, a cheap R3 sight unseen purchase seemed the most logical option, but I would recommend anyone considering acquiring this excellent little picture to acquire the Region 1 edition without delay. Having watched the film on several occasions, I am impressed by the constant parade of hitherto unnoticed clues that are peppered throughout the narrative. Session 9 has been compared to the film Memento in this respect, though I feel that is grossly unfair. Session 9 is at least a decent film after all. Brad Anderson has created a solid, effective and unpretentious little chiller that, whilst not perfect, is certainly worthwhile seeking out. Highly recommended, but get the Region 1 disc.
Movie Score
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