Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

Session 9 is a low budget independent American psychological horror movie that’s often times overlooked due to the lack of monsters, action, special effects, or anything necessarily supernatural. In fact, this movie doesn’t even bother to use artificial lighting. It’s about 5 regular people in a fairly normal situation. The result, is exceptional. Easily one of my all time favorites, just for what it manages to accomplish.


Gordy is hard working recent father and leader of a small asbestos cleaning crew who’s trying to make ends meet. Out of desperation, he offers his services to clean up the Danver State Insane Asylum (actual building where it was filmed) to the city in just one week, knowing it’s at least a 2 week job.
The stress from burnout, in addition to each individual’s own problems, puts the entire team on edge. Everyone begins to work in their own best interests and become a little bit insane themselves.

I’d go insane working here too.


One of the weaker points of this movie, lacking in both powerful A-list actors and strong developement for side characters. It follows the story of Gordy, who, fortunately, is well developed and sympathizable. A decent performance on the actor’s part too. Though certainly not Oscar material, he will move you as necessary. Adequate is the best way to describe the acting for all characters actually, perhaps with the exception of Hank, who doesn’t sound nearly as much of an asshole as his character is. Phil is the second most important character, and while he has a bit more backstory and some depth, it doesn’t really show until the final stretch of the film. Until then, he’s kinda just another guy with a forgettable personality, like Mike, who you never find much about besides that he’s surprisingly knowledgable and plans on finishing law school. Jeff is even worse, being the young inexperienced mullethead nephew of Gordy, who’s only defining traits are his relative inexperience and nyctophobia.

The wrong place to work if you have nyctophobia (fear of the dark).

The best developed and well acted character is actually Mary, who never appears onscreen. You only hear her voice on therapy session tapes. As a psychology major, I can tell you that her character and portrayal of a disassociative identity disorder patient is accurate to a tee. There’s this one line during the climax that’s a bit overacted, but that’s about her only flaw.

The room where you’ll be listening to a psycho a lot. Good choice.


Fortunately, the events of the movie and the way it’s told do not suffer from the same problems as the character developement. A lot of little things happen all at once, and the movie only chooses to show us some of them. The result is a compelling mystery, realistic character interactions (with the exception of Phil’s comedic overly dramatic zoomed in “fuck you”), and no shortage of red herrings to keep you guessing. In fact, the events of this movie are told and hinted at in such misleading ways, that it’s almost impossible to understand it fully in just one viewing, yet at the same time, it’s straightforward enough that it won’t leave you too confused to enjoy the movie. This is easily one of the most intelligent and masterfully told mystery stories ever, even if certain bits are a little cliché.

The most dramatic FU ever.

As with most movies of this type, the pacing is a little slower than most movies. If, like me, you’re terminally allergic to movies that drag on needlessly, don’t worry, because this one moves slow and steady, but never stands still or goes in circles like Paranormal Activity, Noroi, Begotten, and Hurt Locker do so much. It takes its time just enough to unnerve you and build suspense, and never wastes your time with redundant dialogue or imagery.

This dark sequence only lasts a few seconds, instead of dragging on for 10 minutes while moving 2 inches each step like typical horror movies.


Like I always say, this is the most important part of a horror movie. And it is this that makes it one of my all time favorites. Unlike typical horror movies, nothing supernatural is ever shown. There are no cheap shocks, no grotesque creatures/people, no gore, very little blood, only 1 instance of CG, and 1 onscreen killing. There aren’t even any artificial lights. The only tools of terror used is the natural lighting in a real abandoned insane asylum and a few stories told by the characters or through short camera shots focusing on unsettling imagery. It works wonders and is easily one of the most unnerving movies ever made.

Small wonder why psychological treatment was so ineffective just a few decades back when the asylums looked like this.

Perhaps the most impressive thing is that the building isn’t just eerie in the dark basements, but also in the brightly lit decaying seclusion rooms. I often times refer to this movie when I state why the darkness in Paranormal Activity doesn’t work, and this really drives the point home. The movie subtly suggests uneasy feelings and disturbing events through simple stories and uses that to supplement an incomplete image that let’s you fill in the blanks of how that room ended up that way, what’s happened behind the doors, or what’s lurked in the dark. It gives you just enough information so you know it’s not of fairy tale quality, and yet never paints you a complete enough picture that your mind stops wondering.

Excellent artistic camerawork makes the building eerie even in broad daylight.

Increasing the effectiveness even further is the soundtrack, or more accurately, the use of sound. The tracks are littered with inaudible whispers, sounds of structural decay, static, and gradual discordic tones. From the sound of old generators, to the slow distorted voice of Simon, to whizzing of cars driving by, the entire aural experience of this film just exudes dread, death, and evil.

I can keep posting more and more examples of this masterful camera direction all day long.

Perhaps the only flaw in the cinematography is that it never puts an exclamation mark on the atmosphere to drive the viewer from a state of unnerve to sheer terror. Rather, the climax focuses heavily on the mystery aspect of the movie instead. The entire movie peppers you with nearly constant unease and chills, but never hits you with any single unforgettable nightmare-ish sequence like the hospital scene in Jacob’s Ladder, the hospital scene in One Missed Call (J), the final scene in Carrie (1976), the climax of A Tale of Two Sisters, or the final room in [REC]. The final line of the film are words that still stay with you for most of your life, but the lack of a strong horror climax in favor of realism means you probably won’t get any intense nightmares from this.


VERDICT: 8.2/10 (not an average)

Those of you looking for an intriguing mystery fed through an unnerving experience will likely never find a movie that does it better than Session 9. Although it never builds up to a point of sheer terror, few have been able to match its relentless supply of unease through the natural scenery, realistic characters, and unsettling musical score. Action junkies and fans of braindead screamfests will be heavily disappointed, as will people looking for character driven plots. However, as far as pure psychological horror goes, Session 9 is easily one of the greatest of all time. Its achievement is even greater when you consider that there’s nothing necessarily supernatural in this movie. What it is, is the perfect harmony of common real life elements working together to create real fear.


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