Session 9 - Session 9( Blu Ray) [Second Sight Films - 2021]
Originally released in the early 2000’s Session 9 stands as one of the more effective and (still) impactful psychological horror films of the last few decades. The film centres around a team of five men cleaning asbestos from a long-abandoned mental hospital- it blends together classic creepy house tropes, dread-soaked mystery, and blue-collar character study. Here from Second Sight is a new Blu Ray release of the film. The two-disc set offers up a good selection of new & old extras,all packaged in a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Christopher Shy, and a softcover book featuring new essays by Charles Bramesco, Simon Fitzjohn and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, as well as behind-the-scenes and location images.
Session 9 appeared in the year 2001- it was directed & co-written by Madison Connecticut born Brad Anderson. This was the fifth feature-length film from the director- who after this went onto helm bleak paranoid thriller The Machinist (2004), glum and stark train set thriller Transsiberian(2008), period gothic thriller Stone House Asylum(2014), and set in 70’s war-battered hostage negation thriller Berit( 2018). In total, he has forty-seven directing credits to his name, including US TV series episodes, a documentary, and feature lengths.
The picture was filmed in and around Danvers State Hospital- a real abounded mental hospital in Massachusetts. And the huge building is captured with a great sense of creepy unease, building dread, and the general feeling of growing unhinged-ment. Aside from a few fleeting and well-placed supporting cast, the film just focused on the central cast of five contractors- we have Gordon (Peter Mullan) a middle-aged Scotsman who runs the company and is rather drained by the recent birth of his young daughter. There’s Phil (David Caruso) the second in command. And in the rest of the team, we have cocky wise-guy Hank (Josh Lucas), more studious serious Mike (Stephen Gevedon), and Gordon’s young mulleted nephew Jeff (Brendon Sexton III).
Session 9 is a very slow building film- starting as a character study drama with subtle traces of creepiness and unease, moving onto chilling & lightly horror edged mystery as a series of patient recordings are uncovered and people start going missing, before amping up to a disturbing and stay with you resolve. The film features a great soundtrack by experimental Settle music duo Climax Golden Twins- which utilizers brooding to sinisterly hovering drones, sparse instrumental tones, tape reel textures and sudden jarring tone darts.
The acting throughout is excellent- we have Mullan really giving a career highlight as the trouble at home contracting company owner Gordon. Caruso is well fitted as the second in charge, who may or may not have his own agender. And the other three lead actors play their roles in a believable and grounded manner too.
I saw Session 9 when it first came out on DVD in the UK around 2002, and twenty years on the film still remains as chilling impactful, at points deeply unsettling as it was the first time, I saw it. Its long-term impact lies in the film's use of building dread and chilling atmosphere, accomplished acting, and nicely paced script that keeps you guessing exactly what is going on, and even when all is done and dusted, you're still left somewhat uncertain.
Moving onto this new two Blu Ray set-and we get a great selection of new and old extras. And of course, we’ll deal with the new stuff first- and as expected from Second Sight we get a bountiful selection. On the first disc, we have a new commentary track from Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast and author Jed Ayres- and this is excellent full of interesting film/ actor facts, on-screen observations, and worthy personal anecdotes. They start off by commenting on the use of visual sleight of hand throughout the film, moving on to discuss the two leads & other notable roles. They talk about the use of reflection in the film, and how all of the characters somehow play into the broken American dream. They discuss the different forms of treatment used in Danvers when it was open and comment on the notable imagery in the abandoned hospital. They chat about the use of sound design and ambience, mentioning the use of bird sounds to indicate danger. Later on, they talk about character motivation and the actors often wonderfully nuanced performances, the few but very effective special effects in the film, the use of digital cameras, and much more. Easily a track I could see myself playing several times.
The other new extras are found on the second disc- the first of these is The Darkside- this is a twenty-six-minute onscreen interview with director Brad Anderson- he starts off talking about the indie film in the ’90s, and how it got pick-up by larger studios. He chats about his early romantic comedy films, and how/ why he came to co-write the script for Session 9 with writer/ actor Stephen Gevedon. He discusses the process of trying to get the film picked up, and working with American pictures who released the film. He chats about casting, location issues- apparently the hospital was due to be condemned- so the shooting times was short/ tight, and more- a most rewarding interview. Next, we have Back to The Bat- this is a one-hour interview with the film’s producers Producer David Collins and Director of Photography Uta Briesewitz. There’s Invisible Design- a twenty-three-minute interview with Production Designer Sophie Carlhian. We have Mikes Session- a twenty-three-minute interview with Stephen Gevedon, talking about both his writing and acting in the film. We have The Sound of Dread- this is a twenty-six-minute interview with the films score Composers Robert Millis and Jeffery Taylor aka Seattle's Golden Climax Twins- and this is most insightful. They discuss how they came to score the film due to a connection with Stephen Gevedon- whom one of them went to college with. They talk about the writing progresses, and instead of basing the cues on characters they focused on the hospital it’s self- apparently at one point there was talk of them going to Danvers to make field recordings, but this never happened. They talk about how they created sound elements for the soundtrack- including using reel to reel tape in different fashions & recording sounds of air vents. As they move on, they chat about their sonic influences, reactions to the finished film, and their initial slight disappointment due to a big plot point that was removed from the film. They talk about the legacy/ cult following of the film, and how it impacted their own work. The new disc extras are topped off with A Twisted Collage- which is a twenty-minute visual essay from film academic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.
Going onto the archive side of things- and this is all found on the first/ film disc- we get a Director and Writer Brad Anderson and Writer Stephen Gevedon. And the following Return to Danvers documentary, The Haunted Palace, Horror's Hallowed Grounds: Session 9, Story to Screen with optional Director commentary, Deleted scenes and alternate ending with optional Director commentary.
It's so great to see Session 9 getting the classy Second Sight presentation- with great packaging & a wonderful selection of new extras. One of the late 2021 highlights, and if I hadn't already done my end of the year list this most certainly would have been in it- a straight 5 out 5 scored release!Roger Batty