Published Aug 01, 2001Director Brad Anderson has created a film that delves into the subject of madness in this slowly building atmospheric chiller. Low-key and genuinely creepy, the story takes place in a real-life abandoned insane asylum outside Boston. And considering the poor track record of horror films with this theme (the so-so "In The Mouth Of Madness" and the mediocre "House On Haunted Hill" to mention a couple), this one really hits its mark.
Hank, played by Peter Mullan ("My Name Is Joe" "Trainspotting"), is a career abestos removal man who takes on the daunting task of cleaning the abestos-laden asylum within seven days in an effort to save his business and support his wife and new-born baby. David Caruso is his second in command, Phil, who has reservations about whether they will be able to complete the job in time.
The film takes more than a a few cues from The Shining in terms of its haunting style and isolated feel, not to mention the elements of psychological horror. Working from a script penned by Anderson and Stephen Gevedon, who also co-stars in the film as Mike, the tension between the characters is slowly cranked up as the deadline approaches and nerves are frayed. Gevedon's Mike is the story's link to the asylum's past, as the son of the State Attorney who prosecuted the case that resulted in the institution's closing 15 years prior. He stumbles across a box filled with session tapes between a doctor schizophrenic patient and quickly gets sucked in to the case. The sessions provide just a few of the film's spine-tingling moments as we hear the doctor calmly coercing the multiple personalities out of a hysterical woman.
The building itself turns in a most effective performance. Built in the 1860s, its vast size, described by one of the characters as "a giant flying bat," is scary to look at. With its dimly lit corridors, peeling paint and disturbing past, the asylum lends an authenticity that would be impossible to re-create on a studio set.
The film is shot on a new type of digital video camera by Uta Briesewitz. Relying on a good deal of natural light, it has a certain graininess that accentuates the building's haunting quality. Keeping the focus on the conflict among the characters and using the location to its full potential, Anderson's vision is enough to make your skin crawl. He also keeps the gore to a small but very effective minimum, and instead gradually increases the psychological tension to an uncomfortable level. "Session 9" is a refreshing change in the day of over the top effects and cheap scares.