It seemed like barely a couple of weeks (if that) before director Brad Anderson's "Session 9" was out of theaters. Somewhat a fan of Anderson's quirky indie romance "Next Stop, Wonderland", I was interested to see if the director could successfully attempt horror. For the most part, he has succeeded in creating a horror film that is more what-you-don't-see than what you do; a thriller heavy with atmosphere and dread.
The film stars Peter Mullan as Gordon Fleming, the head of an asbestos removal company who has recently had a child. The business is in trouble and Gordon needs another job quickly. They find a gig in the Danvers State Mental Hospital, just outside of Boston. The actual clean-up is a three-week job, but the crew leader agrees to do it in one week to grab a considerable bonus. The crew, including Gordon, Phil (David Caruso), Hank (Josh Lucas), Jeff (Brendan Sexton III) and Mike (Stephen Gevedon). They immediately launch into their task, but there's something about the entire place that's at first vaguely creepy, then much more sinister. The crew members begin to distrust one another and hear things. Is the abandoned hospital coming alive, or are the crew members just cracking under the pressure and their bleak surroundings? I won't give away any more than that.
What I quite liked about the film was that the set-up was not instant. We aren't thrown into the story. Anderson and writer Stephen Gevedon slowly unravel the pieces and build the tension expertly, giving the audience enough character development so that we become involved. The performances are very good across the board, as well, even former "NYPD Blue" star David Caruso. The film's main star, though, is the Danvers State Mental Hospital itself. This film did not shoot on sets, it actually filmed inside the hospital itself, which is genuinely eerie, with its shadows and dark hallways. Well-captured on digital video (the best-looking digital video film I've seen) and nicely edited, the picture is very well-made.
Anderson has not made a flawless movie (the ending begins to fall apart a bit), but "Session 9" is his best effort; a film that is well-written, well-acted and offers scares that are not flashy, but genuinely creepy ones that sneak up on you.
VIDEO: "Session 9" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by USA Films. This is a digital-video project, so it does not show the same sort of clarity and overall appearance of a film. Yet, what I was rather amazed by was that these digital video projects are looking closer and closer like film, with "Session 9" being the most impressive-looking of the DV projects that I've seen. Sharpness and detail are generally very good, with only a hint of softness and some occasional murkiness in the darkest scenes.
The pleasant suprise was that, aside from the occasional softness to the image, there were no other problems to contend with. No pixelation was seen, the print used was clean and clear and no edge enhancement appeared. Colors remained natural and clear, with no smearing. Overall, a very nice presentation of the material.
SOUND: I was rather dismayed to find that "Session 9" is only presented in Dolby 2.0. While low-budget horror features have previously been successful with rough soundtracks (I thought "Blair Witch"'s audio was effective). While I think that "Session 9" could have been even more enjoyable with a 5.1 soundtrack to add to the film's chills and atmosphere, the 2.0 soundtrack certainly isn't too bad. All of the slight details - water dripping, air moving through the halls, etc. are clearly heard. Dialogue also comes through clearly and cleanly. While an enveloping 5.1 soundtrack would have made this film even scarier, the 2.0 soundtrack was satisfactory.
MENUS: Nicely creepy animated main and sub-menus; there's also nicely done transitions between main & sub-menus.
Commentary: This is a commentary track from director Brad Anderson and writer/actor Stephen Gevedon. The track does provide some interesting information here and there (mainly about the experiences shooting in the abandoned building), but the two are so subdued that it's hard to keep involved at times.
Deleted Scenes: Several deleted scenes are provided, one of which is an alternate ending, with commentary from director Brad Anderson. These scenes entirely deal with a subplot that has been deleted from the movie and play back-to-back.
Story-To-Screen: Storyboard-to-scene split-screen comparisons are offered for 5 sequences, along with optional commentary. Alternate poster concepts are also located in this section.
The Haunted Palace: This is a 12-minute "making of" documentary that partially focuses on the history of the actual asylum that the story takes place in and the movie was filmed at and partially focuses on the production of the film. The stars of the film seem genuinely a bit scared by their creepy location.
Also: Trailer, in 2.0 audio.
Final Thoughts: "Session 9" is a genuinely creepy, tense horror picture that has strong performances and is very well-made. Those who liked "The Shining" will likely enjoy this film, as well. USA Films has given the film a solid DVD edition, with good audio/video quality and fine supplements. Recommended.