All Work And No Play
by Brody Rossiter
There are two routes down which a horror movie can travel: an open highway upon which fearsome creatures race while peppering the asphalt with blood, bullets and bodies, or a long and winding dirt track that ominously leads into a fearful unknown. Both paths possess their own unique merits, each capable of producing altogether different yet equally affecting scares. Session 9 journeys down the road less travelled, its final destination that of a Shining-esque descent into the madness that breeds amongst those exposed to history’s darkness.
The film follows five asbestos cleaners as they clear out a dilapidated Massachusetts asylum marked for redevelopment. Beyond the deadly cancerous fibres that float through the air, there are no typical horror flick threats; it’s the slowly deteriorating relationship between the quarrelling workmen that nurtures a foreboding sense of hostility that grows increasingly volatile. As tensions flare and the collective patience begins to fray, things begin to go bump in the many shadowy recesses of the crumbling asylum and a series of startling discoveries are made.
Director Brad Anderson is making a habit of creating underappreciated gems, most of which possesses a good deal of horror within their narratives. 2004’s deeply atmospheric and entirely unsettling The Machinist toyed with body horror conventions as an emaciated Christian Bale struggled to piece together his mind; 2008’s Transsiberian took a murderous and exhilarating train ride deep into the snowy eastern European wastes; 2013’s The Call weaved a distinctly Hitchcockian web throughout its high-octane narrative as Halle Berry desperately strove to save a kidnapped girl – a diverse yet potent and often confrontational collection of pictures that many would deem unmissable. Session 9 clearly marked the beginning of this satisfying trend back in 2001.
The combination of an inherently spooky location – even when blanketed in rusty shades of daylight – and an accomplished cast including Peter Mullan, David Caruso and Josh Lucas ultimately creates one of the finest American independent horror films of the 21st century. With a powerful, discordant score and Uta Briesewitz’s chillingly immersive cinematography, Session 9 is likely to burrow deep beneath your skin, incubate inside your brain and gnaw away at your psyche from the inside out – just like those poisonous particles that twinkle in the sunlight.