I first reviewed Session 9 back in 2002, when I and a group of fellow horror fans decided to start sharing our thoughts on movies with the rest of the world as Horrorview.com. Brad Anderson had already made something of a splash in the indie scene with Next Stop Wonderland (starring Wayward Pines’ most annoying resident, Hope Davis), so, when I saw Session 9 sitting on the DVD shelf at the local big box store, my curiosity was piqued. I was especially drawn-in by the film’s locale; the notorious Danvers State Mental Institution, which my parents and older siblings lived within spitting distance of just before I was born. I remember being regaled with tales of terror about the place, including one incident in which a patient who had wandered off from the place showed up on their doorstep, insisting it was his house. I’d long held a fascination with the place, so I couldn’t pass up a horror movie that was actually made there!
Session 9 is named for one tape in a group of recorded therapy sessions uncovered by a member of a HAZMAT team who are sent in to de-lead a condemned mental hospital in Massachusetts. The crew, led by Gordon (Peter Mullan) and his foreman Phil (David Caruso) are working under a very tight schedule after Gordon promises the general contractors a quick and thorough job for a $10,000.00 bonus if he gets it done in one week. Gordon has just had a baby and is desperate for the money, so, while his crew protests quietly, they can see the amount of stress their kind hearted boss is under and bit their collective lips.
Mike (co-writer Stephen Gevendon), a law-school drop-out who now works for Gordon, discovers a box of tapes and photographs of a patient named Mary Hobbes, and he is instantly drawn into her world through the recorded sessions. As Mike digs deeper into Mary’s case, strange things begin to happen in the abandoned building, and in the lives of the members of Gordon's crew (including early turns by Josh Lucas, Larry Fessenden, and Brandon Sexton III)
Session 9 is an absolutely expert blend of dark psychological horror with classic haunted house movie tropes populated by a collection of truly relatable characters who are as real as your next door neighbor. As a native New Englander, I can vouch for the authenticity of these performances, especially Peter Mullan, who is simply brilliant as the down-on-his-luck Gordon, and really creates a sympathy for his character that will resonate with you long after the film's shattering climax. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent (revisiting this one reminded me of just how good of an actor David Caruso was before CSI Miami turned him into a living meme), and the screenplay by Anderson and Gevendon is just wonderfully nuanced and genuine stuff.
Session 9 finally comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory, who presents the film in a very atmospheric and crisp 2.35:1 1080p transfer that retains the somewhat grimy aesthete and muted color scheme but still manages to impress with ample fine detail and well-balanced contrast. The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is rich and full, with robust bass and organic sounding dialogue, while directional cues and the film’s hauntingly minimalistic score (by Climax Golden Twins) are replicated wonderfully.
Scream Factory offers up a host of great extras, including an ALL-NEW retrospective, Return to Danvers: The Secrets of Session 9 that features new interviews with several members of the cast and crew, as well as a NEW episode of the popular Horror’s Hallowed Grounds. We also get a few goodies carried over from the old USA DVD including an insightful commentary by Anderson and Gevendon, a very cool (albeit short) documentary about the Danvers State Mental Hospital, a deleted scenes segment (with optional Anderson commentary) and more.
Here’s the complete rundown from Scream!
- NEW Return To Danvers: The Secrets Of SESSION 9 Featuring Interviews With Director/Co-writer Brad Anderson, Actor/Co-writer Stephen Gevedon, Actors Josh Lucas, Brendan Sexton III, Larry Fessenden, Composers The Climax Golden Twins And Director Of Photography Uta Briesewitz
- NEW Horror's Hallowed Grounds – Revisiting The Locations Of The Film
- Audio Commentary With Brad Anderson And Stephen Gevedon
- Deleted Scenes And Alternate Ending With Optional Commentary By Director Brad Anderson
- Story To Screen Featurette
- The Haunted Palace Featurette
- Theatrical Trailer
Session 9 is, quite simply, one of the most effective and unsettling psychological horror films ever made. It’s got great script, bone-chilling setting, loads of scares, and features expert direction and performances. It more than measures up to some of the best examples in the genre, and is well-deserving of its cult status. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation is excellent, and comes with my highest recommendations. If you’ve not seen this film, what are you waiting for?!!