Session 9

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Session 9 is a low budget horror thriller that delivers the goods. Filmed before he resurfaced as Horatio Cane on CSI: Miami, David Caruso plays a asbestos cleaner who has one week to clean out a 130 year old abandoned psychiatric hospital. A well written movie featuring top notch acting, and the fact that it was filmed at a real psych hospital only adds to the movies authentic feel.

Danvers State Hospital, located just north of Boston, is a real mental hospital where the movie was filmed, and is just as important a character as any of the members of crew sent there to clean it up. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Danvers consists of 17 buildings, with over 300,000 square feet of useable space, erected between 1874-1878. It closed in the mid 80’s amid budget cuts… and scandals. The facility was a frequent target for urban explorers, and homeless people were often kicked out.

The movie tells the story of five asebtos removal technicians who have one week to remove asbetos in advance of prepared demolition. Headed by the owner Gordon, and his partner Phil (Caruso) they are Joined by Mike, son of the state Attorney General, and one time law student, Hank (who is dating Phil’s ex-girlfriend) and newbie Jeff, Gordon’s cousin. The movie avoids most of the traditional clichés, scenarios & plot devices in favor of character development. Every one of these men has their own motivations & secrets, and Phil’s has nothing to do with the plot but establishes his character a great deal. A lesser movie would’ve left that secret on the cutting room floor or gone for something flashier. As the week progresses, things start to happen, secrets are revealed, bad decisions made, and paranoia ensues. What is really going in Danvers? The movie throws more red herrings at you then Oliver Stone’s JFK did, and even till the last moment you’ll be trying to predict who (or what) is responsible, and what will happen next.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, (or I’d ruin it) but suffice it to say that the movie eschews the standard horror fare of buckets of blood and cheap “thrills” for true suspense and terror. Mike discovers a cache of old records & files & throughout the film he listens to the therapy sessions of Mary Hobbes, a schizophrenic patient from the 70’s. As we listen to session after session toward the inevitable 9th session, we learn about her life, her illness and just why she was committed. Session #9’s audio is played out over the action of the 4 men in various parts of the house, each facing their own dangers. Some reviews I read said there wasn’t enough of a bang bang ending. The entire movie is methodically slow, unfurling itself & dragging you along, as you ponder the facility, the men & what exactly is going on. Like a slow burn it builds to a climax that never explodes but burns brightly, then slows to a simmer till the closing credits.

Thru the use of wide angle shots to demonstrate the size & scope of the facility, we feel overwhelmed by it all. Most of the films takes place in bright sunlight, even in interior shots, but the movie really shines thru its numerous scenes in the hospital’s dark corridors and subterranean labyrinths. There are several chilling moments, including one scene where a character is trapped in the dark. Even though the way it is depicted isn’t how it would actually happen if the power failed, it is so terrifying a prospect that we don’t even care. The final scenes cut back & forth quickly between the 4 men, inter weaving their tales with a 5th element, the audio of Session number 9….

The acting is all top-notch, especially David Caruso’s. You can say what you want about his wooden acting on CSI: Miami, in this movie he does an excellent job. The movie is very low budget but you’d never know it because all of it was filmed on location, and very few special effects were used. After viewing the movie I watched the behind the scenes interviews & wasn’t surprised when the cast & crew talked about how they were creeped out by the filming. If anything, Danvers is even more psychologically imposing after having watched the behind the scene interviews. Written & directed by Brad Anderson, he actually wrote the script with this facility in mind. It turns out that nearly everything said in the movie about Danvers is true, although the story told by Mike about the satanic ritual abuse case which contributed to it’s demise is a slightly altered version of real events. (It’s amazingly close to the truth…) This is a movie to watch in the dark with your loved one, getting spooked as you go. This movie will be enough to keep you out of abandoned places for a very long time.

If you’ve ever been in a real abandoned psychiatric facility, you will appreciate the mood of the movie. It’s little things like a conversation held between the technicians and the head of the security. Phil says,” I see you’ve got a firearm on, and I’m wondering why. It’s not like people are trying to get out.” “Not out. In. You know, kids. Delinquents. Homeless. A lot of former patients ended up in the streets when this place closed down, and some of them, they came back.” Later as they are given a tour of the facility, Gordon asks about the graffiti. “Punks, little motherfuckers come in here to get high, wreck the place, destructive little bastards.”

The real Danvers was tgorn down in 2006 despite being on the National register of Historic Places. Interestingly, the planned development of condos and townhouses suffered a severe arson the following year. Here are some excellent photos of Danvers before it was torn down. Here’s another site that discusses Danvers as well as other Kirkbride buildings. Kirkbride designed many such facilities in such a unique fashion, the style was named after him.

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