• Session 9

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: August 16th, 2016.
    Director: Brad Anderson
    Cast: David Caruso, Josh Lucas, Peter Mullan, Brendan Sexton III, Stephen Gevedon, Josh Lucas
    Year: 2001
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    The Movie:

    New father Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullan) runs an asbestos abatement company. When we meet him, he and his co-worker, Phil (David Caruso), are exploring the abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital with a man named Bill Griggs (Paul Guilfoyle) so that they can submit a bid to clean the place up. As the tour ends, Gordon tells Bill he’ll beat the competitors quote and that he’ll finish the job in a week. He gets it. The next day, Phil and Gordon show up at the job site with contractors Hank (Josh Lucas), Mike (Stephen Gevedon) and Gordon’s nephew, Jeff (Brendan Sexton III). There’s a ten thousand dollar bonus in it for each of these men if they can get the job done on time, and so they quickly set out to get to work. There’s tension early on – Hank stole Phil’s girlfriend from him and they don’t get along, Jeff doesn’t necessarily know what he’s doing and Mike quickly becomes obsessed with some tapes that he finds in an old office.

    As the various players go about cleaning up the ceiling and floor tiles and marking the pipes in the basement for removal, the tapes pull Mike in further and further as he listens to recordings marked sessions one through nine. Through these tapes we learn of one of the patients, Mary Hobbes, who seemed to suffer from multiple personality disorder. More important than that, however, are how the different players react to what may or may not still be living in the hospital – distrust sets in and things soon take some very sinister turns.

    Session 9 is a slow burn and those wanting jump scares and extreme gore will walk away disappointed. It’s not that type of horror picture. Instead, the movie maximizes its perfect location and rides the atmosphere that it so beautifully provides. Really, The Danvers State Mental Hospital, as it stood when this movie was made, couldn’t be a better spot to stage a horror film. The movie is careful with the details here, giving us tidbits of how the very real deinstitutionalization trend of the eighties and nineties led to the closing of massive city-sized facilities like this (and the equally massive King’s Park facility in Long Island). Early on in the film Griggs even goes so far as to explain the significance of the Kirkbride style architecture used in the central building where all of this takes place. Co-writers Anderson and Gevedon clearly did some research here, and the movie is all the better for it. It might take a little while for the plot to get moving but everything is so beautifully photographed that you won’t mind, or maybe even notice. Anderson has a very controlled directing style that suits the story well. The movie’s score is also excellent, never going too far over the top but also going for a more subtle approach to building tension.

    The film is also very careful in how it photographs the story. The film is not overly lit, at least not obviously so, and there are some very striking compositions here that are simultaneously beautiful and eerie. The hospital was essentially used ‘as is’ with only a few props brought in and only a few rearrangements done for specific, plot based reasons. Otherwise, Session 9 presents The Danvers State Mental Hospital in its native state circa 1999-2000 when the film was shot. This gives things a perfect sense of authenticity, with loads of detail for those who obsess over strange abandoned buildings to take in. From the asbestos dripping off of the pipes in the basement to the painted murals meant to sooth the patients peeling off of the walls to the piles of medical records and files simply left to the ravages of time, the place is a beautiful, horrifying mess. As such, it is the location, more than any of the humans that inhabit the picture, which is the true star of the film.

    Having said that, the performances here are very strong across the board. David Caruso has had his career ups and downs but he is rock solid here, creating with Phil a man that is clearly loyal to his employer even if it tests him given who he has to work with. Peter Mullan is also excellent here. Gordon is a pretty sympathetic guy, even as the story unfolds and we learn the truth about him you still can’t help but feel for the guy. Josh Lucas plays the cocky and arrogant Hank perfectly and once things hit the fan as the job is underway, it’s interesting to see how he transforms Hank into something very different than who he was when the movie started. Stephen Gevedon is the book smart one of the bunch, his very blue collar co-workers noting more than once that his character should have finished law school. It makes sense that he’d take an interest in what really went down in the hospital and what really happened to Mary Hobbes. Brendan Sexton III rounds out the principal cast well, playing the dim-witted, mulletted Jeff very effectively. Supporting efforts from Paul Guilfoyle and Larry Fessenden are solid, and the voice work from Jurian Hughes as Mary Hobbes also very strong.


    Session 9 debuts on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. As the film was shot digitally on a 24fps Sony HD camera, there’s obviously no print damage to note. Colors come through really nicely here, the greys and browns that dominate the interiors contrasting nicely whenever the movie goes outside in the day time where the lush green lawn really pops. Skin tones look good, nice and natural, while black levels are strong and deep. At the same time the movie shows good shadow detail, which is important given how much of this movie takes place in dimly lit interiors. Thankfully the disc is well authored with a solid bit rate, so compression is held in check. Detail is considerably stronger here than it was on the old DVD release, as is texture and overall clarity.

    The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 stereo track but it’s a good one. Dialogue is clean, clear and nicely balanced and the music gets a nice bump up in clarity and depth when compared to the older DVD release. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the film’s intricate sound design really shines here, the various effects and weird voices emanating from the session tapes helping to add immensely to the film’s eerie atmosphere. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    Extras for this release start off with an audio commentary with director/co-writer Brad Anderson and co-writer/actor Stephen Gevedon carried over from the previous DVD release that came out back in 2002. It’s a pretty interesting talk with the two guys doing a great job of filling in the backstory for the feature. There’s a lot of discussion about the location itself, some of what happened during the shoot, how and why the story was written with the old Danvers State Mental Hospital in mind and more. They also talk about the cinematography, limited effects work used in the film and the cast members and crew members who all played a part in bringing the movie to completion.

    New to this release is a forty-eight minute featurette entitled Return To Danvers: The Secrets of Session 9 which is made up of new interviews with Anderson and Gevedon as well as cast members Josh Lucas, Brendan Sexton III, Larry Fessenden, composers The Climax Golden Twins and director of photography Uta Briesewitz. This covers some of the same ground as the commentary but also covers some new material too. There are plenty of clips from throughout the movie used to illustrate various points but it’s the interviews that make it worthwhile. There are some great stories here about the writing process but again, there’s a lot of focus on the location including an interesting bit where Lucas, Anderson and Briesewitz each give their own individual take on a genuinely unsettling and bizarre event that took place while shooting the scene where Lucas’ character runs through the patient corridor in the bottom of the building. Crazy stuff!

    Also new to this Blu-ray release is a twenty-minute installment of Sean Clark’s Horror’s Hallowed Grounds series. While the hospital used in the shoot has been partially torn down, leaving what’s left to be turned into luxury condos, Clark and some of his friends did manage to get inside the place in 2004 with a camcorder before that all took place. So here we get that footage included with newly shot material from the present day. Clark explores the grounds as best he can, finding the old cemetery (which has had the numbered stones replaced with proper headstones) and giving us a nice history of the place. He also finds the house that was used in the movie and gives us a look at the exterior as it exists now. These featurettes are always interesting but given just how compelling the history of this particular location is, this installment is more involved quite a bit more intriguing.

    Carried over from the aforementioned DVD release are a few other supplements, including a selection of deleted scenes and an alternate Ending that you can watch with optional commentary by director Brad Anderson. For those who haven’t seen them before, they offer up a look at an interesting plot line that was shot to be included at the movie but removed after test screenings. We won’t spoil it any more than that. We also get the DVD’s Story To Screen (essentially a storyboard to film comparison that shows off five scenes), the interesting twelve minute The Haunted Palace featurette that was shot on location during the shoot and features interviews with Anderson and most of the cast members, and a theatrical trailer for the movie. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included.

    The Final Word:

    Session 9 holds up remarkably well. The performances are great, the characters are interesting, the story is well told and the location is absolutely perfect. Shout! Factory have brought the film to Blu-ray for the first time in great shape and not only carried over all of the extras from the previous DVD release but thrown in a few worthwhile additions to the supplemental package as well. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Good review. I think that I might need to revisit this one.