Monday, October 3, 2011

Movie Appraisal: Session 9 (2001)

Session 9 is a fantastic psychological horror movie. This is exactly what every psychological horror movie should be. Yes, it takes credit from the location of the abandoned Danvers State Hospital, but the imagery overall is fantastic.Yes, there are some downsides, but with the relatively tiny amounts of good or even decent psychological horror movies out there, this movie does stand out to me as being absolutely full of quality.

While neither the acting nor the characters themselves really sell this movie, the directing and mental hospital imagery really do. What is scary than being inside of an abandoned mental asylum? Not much. What else can I even think of that would be scarier? Locked inside of the Parisian catacombs? Or I guess any catacombs? Yeah, I guess that would be more terrifying, but until I see horror movies with that as the setting, I am going to have to settle for this being one of the creepier settings.

A lot of psychological horror is set in hospitals, probably to remind all the viewers of death and how hospitals really are a place of sickness and death just as much as they are places of healing. It is how our society views death. We fear hospitals for what they represent: death, sickness, disease, cancer, sadness, grief... All those things come to mind when thinking about a hospital, and a mental hospital is even worse, throwing in insanity and psychosis into the mix, maybe even violence if there is a history of that with the patients.

My point here is that a lot of psychological horror tends to use that fear of hospitals against the viewer. Hospitals or mental hospitals appear in Jacob's Ladder, Autopsy, Room 8, Silent Hill, Ink, Stay, Black damn Swan, The Ring, Dead End, Sublime, 1408, and many others including many horror video games as well. My point is that the setting is used so much because it is useful for unsettling the watcher and useful for making people squirm. That is one of the reasons why Session 9 is so effective.

Is it my favorite psychological horror movie? No. It has its moments, but ultimately, despite the great and fearful visuals, it seems to lack something. The plot is simplistic, about working men cleaning up an old hospital and finding something dark within that place. Yes, there are small scares from time to time, but nothing that feels altogether coherent. It has a weird plot, one that turns about and has a big twist in the end, but ultimately feels like it lacks a soul.

Does it really matter if a horror movie has a soul or not?

No, I think this movie feels scary. There are scenes in this film that are intensely difficult to watch. One comes to mind with the use of the lobotomizing instrument. It's really creepy.

The plot is all over the place and, like I said previously, involves a few twists and turns with an ultimate story "twist." I'm not going to spoil it, but it involves Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which seems to be a common thing in psychological horror (like Identity for example) and a loose cannon of a character. The pacing is good and the characters, although not exactly likable or played by amazing actors, do a great job for their roles within the story.

There are some Chekhov's guns throughout the story as well and if you pay attention you can figure out the plot long before the movie presents the solution to you. Watch the phone calls between Gordon and his wife, watch the different deaths of the cast and see if you can figure it out. The character of Simon is also creepy too, creepy enough to give one of my friends who watched it years ago nightmares about it for weeks afterward.

Again, this is a solid entry into psychological horror even if it isn't the best. It's scary and well-paced, and thoroughly enjoyable, with few flaws that I can really even mention save the weak cast. The imagery is incredibly well done and it really does stick out as one of the better psychological horror movies around even if it really jumps onto an overdone psychological horror trope in using hospitals as a main setting. It's a solid movie anyway and lovers or even likers of psychological movies or horror movies will be impressed by it.

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