Thursday, June 27, 2019

Session 9 [dir. Brad Anderson]

Session 9 can be succinctly described as a blue-collar riff on The Shining. Unlike the swanky Hotel Overlook, the "Bad Place" (as Stephen King would describe it) here is a sprawling mental asylum fallen into disuse since the 1980's. To make the place viable for redevelopment, it is first required to bring it in line with regulations pertaining to safe removal of all asbestos material used in the construction, which is what brings in Gordon (Peter Mullan) and his team. Struck with family problems and desperate for the money, Gordon promises to finish the job in a punishing week-long schedule. With him are buddy Phil (David Caruso, where went he?), still mopey over losing his girl-friend to wiseguy and third member Hank (Josh Lucas), there's law-school dropout Mike (Stephen Gevedon, who co-wrote the picture with director Brad Anderson) who seems to know a lot of the asylum's history and Gordon's nephew Jeff, who is new to the job and has a fear of the dark.

Much of Session 9's allure comes from the eerie uncomfortable atmosphere generated by the location itself. Cavernous dust-choked hallways with sounds of water-dripping (and could those be whispers in the air?) and the ever-present hazard of asbestos fibres getting into the system. Tension builds in the men's minds, with each person seemingly encountering something in the building. Gordon hears voices that seem to call him, Mike finds the session tapes of a multiple personality disorder patient called Mary whose mind hosted some immensely disturbing alter egos, Hank finds a cache of old coins and strange objects...As each day passes, the sense of dread steadily rises until, as any horror fan can guess, it boils over into blood-soaked mayhem.

Anderson and his cinematographer Uta Briesewitz (who almost lost an eye capturing a chaotic shot) make the most of the setting - according to him, very little was needed by way of dressing the place up. The interplay of light and darkness is a crucial element in several scenes, generating a grim uneasy tone. One scene where a character is running terrified through a corridor while lights all around him go off is a throat-grabbing moment. The climax is an extremely well depicted unraveling of sanity that stands well with its predecessor in The Shining.
A few words on the blu-ray release from Shout Factory:
Session 9 was shot on 24 fps HD Video. Shout Factory's blu-ray gives an accurate depiction of the visuals and looks more polished than I remember of my previous viewing. Sound is stereo only (DTS-HDMA) but decent, although I would have been interested to hear a 5.1 remix that enhanced the sonic atmosphere. Extras include a solid 45 min retrospective making of with Anderson, Stephen Gevedon, DoP Briesewitz and other cast members, director's commentary and other featurettes.

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