Although Brad Anderson’s career as a feature-film director spans less than a decade, the American director has consistently satisfied audiences with his own peculiar brand of supernatural tales. Happy Accidents, Session 9, The Machinist and Transsiberian all have their own following by people who enjoy an alternative to the mainstream “thrillers” we’ve been inundated with lately.
When I asked Ricky D to suggest a scary movie for me to review the other night at Movieland, he mentioned Session 9 and as soon as Anderson’s name was uttered, I was sold. I tremendously enjoyed this movie and deconstructing it was uncommonly fun, as every new viewing revealed tiny bits of information I had previously missed.
The opening shot is an ode to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 as an upside down, solitary wheelchair in a chilling hallway is slowly spun horizontally, a surprisingly effective filming motif that Anderson first uses here to foreshadow the downward spiral that our characters are about to experience. When the second scene takes place outdoors, I was immediately taken by the crystal clarity of the image. As it turns out, Session 9 was one of the first feature-length films to be shot using a widescreen, high definition camera (a Sony 24P HD), which shoots at 24 frames instead of the 30 that is used by conventional film. According to secondspin.com, “The filmmakers used the same camera that George Lucas would later use to film Star Wars: Episode II”.
Anderson takes full advantage of this technology by producing long, fluid scenes that easily segway into each other. This not only helps convey the enormous size of Danvers Asylum (located 30 miles north of Boston, if you’re in the area) but it also promotes the beautiful, natural light the building has to offer, which provides additional creepiness. The juxtaposition between light and dark throughout the movie is remarkable, and as the director mentions during the commentary, “there is something horrifying about having something awful happen during the daytime”. Furthermore Anderson often shoots his characters from the back, opting to circle around them in order to capture their facial expressions, a technique that drastically reduces the “jagged-ness” often found in your run-of-the-mill horror movies. He is a director who takes pride in his craft, with quantity taking a back seat to quality. Due to a very limited budget, the light and sound departments needed to be extra creative. There is little or no music present, a feature I particularly enjoy during movies (as mentioned in my review of Eraserhead) and instead, Anderson employs a wide range of bizarre sounds and noises to emphasize the dark, brooding nature of the movie. Not only do sounds propel the narrative but they create a mysterious aura that would otherwise be unachievable if the director had laced his movie with Limp Bizkit and Korn songs.
Although the plot is as thick (and slow) as honey, it’s worth the wait. As we see it, five guys who work in the asbestos abatement industry are hired to work in Danvers Asylum for a week and it’s a pretty clever plot device to get our characters to spend a considerable amount of time in this place – just long enough for them to become infected psychologically. The characters are eclectic as usual: Gordon, the company owner (Peter Mullan), a middle-aged stressed out father of a newborn who has trouble coping with the stress that parenthood brings. David Caruso plays Phil, Gordon’s right-hand man who resents Hank (Josh Lucas) for having stolen his girlfriend. Mike (Steven Gevedon, also the co-writer) and Jeff (Brandon Sexton III) round out the cast. Without delving too much into each character’s psyche, Gordon is the bundle of string that holds the story together; his descent into madness is exacerbated by Mike’s discovery of an ‘evidence’ box, one that contains audio recordings of interviews held with Mary Hobbs, a patient of the asylum who suffered from multiple personality disorder. One after the other, they fall prey to the building’s malevolence…
As Mary’s different personalities are interviewed and questioned about the murder of her brother and parents, Gordon and his crew become increasingly ‘possessed’ by the asylum, which seeks to make them eventual patients. Gordon’s story is analogous to Mary’s, as they both have repressed memories, as well as the inability to “wake up” and see the horrible acts they’ve committed. “Simon”, the personality Mary wants to avoid at any cost, is the direct link between her and Gordon, and could also be seen as a “genius loci” (or protective spirit) of the asylum.
“Suddenly it’s going to dawn on you”, says a clipping on the wall of an old patient’s room. It and many other ‘hints’ foreshadow the end of the movie. You’ll just have to see it to understand! I highly recommend this movie to any Brad Anderson fans, as well as people who enjoy clever, psychological suspense tales. Every aspect of this movie is enjoyable; the acting, the story and the cinematography. The asylum adeptly plays on each character’s weaknesses instead of just drowning them with ghosts and monsters. The crew was inspired by “Don’t look now”, a 1973 psychic thriller starring Donald Sutherland, which is next on my “to see list”. Enjoy!