Session 9

on August 10, 2001 by Paul Clinton
   Startling and genuinely terrifying, "Session 9" updates Old Dark House horror by staying grounded in the real (rather than supernatural) world.

   Using a Gothic mental hospital's isolated, woodsy location and strange bat-wing-shaped structure, director Brad Anderson ("Next Stop Wonderland") blankets the movie with the same kind of ominous suspense found in "The Blair Witch Project."

   Set in the abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital, a Massachusetts asylum closed down in 1985, the movie follows an asbestos-removal crew as they work feverishly to complete their huge job. Desperate to secure the contract, crew chief Gordon (Peter Mullan) promises a town engineer (Paul Guilfoyle) his HAZMAT team can clean up the hospital in only one week.

   Gordon is joined by edgy Phil (David Caruso), aspiring lawyer Mike (Steven Gevedon, who wrote the script with Anderson), hard-ass Hank (Josh Lucas) and Jeff (Brendan Sexton III), Gordon's green nephew.

   The more time they spend in the hospital's claustrophobic corridors and former patient wards, the more they begin to lose their own minds.

   Anderson parallels the crew's mental unraveling with Mike's discovery of ancient audio recordings of a psychiatrist interviewing one of the hospital's schizoid patients. Mike listens to snippets of the tapes, which become increasingly harrowing over the course of nine sessions.

   Rather than lame spoof or formulaic slashing, ''Session'' focuses on the personalities of the men in the crew and how they act when things get hairy.

   Anderson, using a unique high-definition digital camera, fluidly captures the hospital's darkly threatening atmosphere, evoking a 14th-century dungeon--with a hydrotherapy tub and shock treatment bed standing in for a rack or iron maiden.

   The actors all play their roles to he hilt, including Caruso, who shows a flair for conveying paranoia. His Phil is dangling by a thread.

   The movie's ending, a real kicker, leaves one paralyzed in one's seat, realizing the uncontrollable and sometimes undetectable fury of serious mental illness.

   "Session 9" is a filmic experience that's impossible to brush off.    Starring David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas, Peter Mullan and Brendan Sexton III. Directed by Brad Anderson. Written by Brad Anderson & Stephen Gevedon. Produced by David Collins, Dorothy Aufiero and Michael Williams. A USA release. Horror. Not yet rated. Running time: 99 min.

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