Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Session 9 (2001)

I only knew two things about Session 9 before watching it: that it has received high praise among cult horror fans; and that its premise involves an asbestos removal crew working in an abandoned mental hospital. This is rather clever, as it actually gives the characters a legitimate reason for being in an abandoned mental hospital. And while I won't fault other movies for less plausible setups (I myself would explore an abandoned mental hospital for no other reason than curiosity), there's an air of authenticity that comes from feeling like the characters in the movie are doing something natural, and not being forced into situations just for the sake of scaring them (and the audience).

And this film manages to construct a very tense, foreboding atmosphere, largely inspired by the intrinsic creepiness of the set itself: an impressively large, and suitably dilapidated, insane asylum. As far as the plot goes, I was hoping for more of a supernatural scare (there are elements of that), but instead, we get a tale of insanity. The crew workers are affected - in more and less subtle ways - by the legacy of a former patient, with multiple personalities, who had repressed her memory of a terrible thing that happened when she was a child. There is enough ambiguity in what happens in order to provide evidence for various interpretations of the story. But I think the supernatural/demonic elements effectively work as symbolism for the evil that exists in the hearts of every man (and lucky for us, lies dormant in most).

There is some really creepy imagery in this movie, most of it subtle - except maybe the few shots of spiders thrown in. But some of it very effective. Most horror movies don't actually "scare" me, but this one did (though not on the same level as Paranormal Activity - another reason why I hoped for a more supernatural scare). Overall, this is a really well-made film. The premise, while familiar, contains an original twist, and the filmmakers know how to create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. Highly recommended for serious and sophisticated horror fans.

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