Some of the scariest films from a place we never expect it. Sometimes they come from little know independent film directors, who try something new and innovative. Sometimes they come from foreign countries that transcend cultural rifts, like Guillermo del Toro film, or most Asian Horror flicks.
And then sometimes they come from the mainstream cinema.
In the last decade or so, we’ve only come to expect crap from major studios trying to scare audiences. Why? Because they don’t want to scare you so bad that they create bad press, but they want you to be intrigued enough so that you’ll spend money to see it. This Manic Movie Magic, let’s take a look at Session 9.
Released way back in 2001, Session 9 understands that often forgotten principle of horror movies: Less is More. And trust me, there is definitely a sense of this movie being as stripped down to the bare essentials.
It starts off with a crew of cleaners going to a scary, abandoned mental institution, because you know, America’s just got those lying around everywhere. Their job is to get it ready for renovation by removing all the asbestos…which really is as boring as drying paint. We see them doing it often throughout the film, and the only reason it doesn’t immediately induce sleep is because they’re in hazamat suits and that makes it more creepy.
The cast itself is all male, and all white, which makes for a pretty dull group but also shows the film wasn’t interested in faking any kind of diversity. Our main character is , who plays new-father-loving-husband-leader Gordon, who I will dub Boss Man. And then there’s his best friend Phil, though, the only one you’re really going to be interested in David Caruso…but we’re just going to call him CSI guy.
Then you have the three others who I will title the Smart One, the Dumbass, and the Newbie cause those are the only traits in these characters that matter.
Smart One finds some leftover tapes from the mental asylum, detailing patient 444, aka Mary, and her multiple personalities. During these scenes, no other important visuals or flashbacks are shown, just the people cleaning the asylum or of the tape playing, making the tapes eerie and extremely disturbing. It’s like when you play a tape in a videogame, and your character simply stands in silence as you wonder what’s been recorded.
She has three facets of her personality – a young, girly adorable one named Princess, the sensible and protective one named Billy, and the mysterious Simon, who we assume is on the Session 9 tape, and seems to be the one calling the shots. We also understand the reason she’s in the mental institute has something to do with a china doll, her brother, and a knife.
Slowly, and surely, all the members of the team start feeling very uneasy about this job, especially the Newbie. It also seems like Boss Man has something wrong with him, as his flashbacks are weird and distorted, and he doesn’t seem to be getting much sleep. The film shifts into high tension as the characters become very nervous about the seemingly quiet place.
Meanwhile, the Dumb Ass finds some valuables hidden in the walls. True to his epithet, he comes back later that night to steal stuff, only to be mysteriously killed off screen. Everyone plays the blame game, until they all get offed, until the truth about the killer, and the Session 9 tape is revealed.
The thing of it all is that Session 9 doesn’t look like a studio effort – it feels more like an independent movie, which is a double edged sword. The movie looks terrible, which is part of the appeal because it looks closer to reality than some weird Hollywood-perfect world. Though, sometimes the shots look really weird or unnecessary, lingering on some not-so scary objects for way too long.
My biggest problem with this film is the ending. The biggest problem is, of course, that it’s not very clear at all what happened. When I did my customary in depth research, i.e. IMDB and Wikipedia, I found a completely different interpretation of the ending. Spoilers be ahead:
The camera pans through the asylum as the Session 9 tape plays over the action. Simon emerges and explains how he convinced Mary to kill her brother, since her brother had scared her and caused her to break the china doll she got for Christmas. Obviously demonic in nature, Simon convinces Mary to kill her parents as well. We finally catch Boss Man in a patients room, which he has apparently been living in. It turns out he actually murdered his wife and infant child, and has since lost his mind. He calls her on a broken phone and apologizes as Simon delivers a terrfying line “I live in the weak and wounded, Doc.”
My interpretation of this was that Simon was a psychological manifestation of a mental snap in Mary, acting as her new voice of reason, taking over her mind as she was “weak and wounded.” The tapes are a parallel between to Boss Man’s own mental break and shows just how sane the insane can be, especially when adding the mundane solitude of cleaning an entire building where crazy was the order of the day.
Apparently I’m wrong though. What happened, supposedly, was that Simon jumped into Boss Man and made him kill his family, which is weird cause it feels like the murder happened before they started working on the place. And if so, is Simon a demon? A ghost? There has not be a single shred of evidence in the film of the supernatural and suddenly it pops up right at the end? And its not very well explained if this is the case, especially due to abstract nature of what’s going on.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie just because it was actually able to scare me and genuinely feel involved in what amounts to a very vague and un-detailed story. It reminds me a lot of Silent Hill in the sense that the absolute darkness, and loneliness are what really help with the creepy atmosphere, and ultimately what makes this film pretty damn good. It’s a good film to watch for even the most scaredy-cat of people, and delivers on its promise more or less.
Tune in next week when I start Silent Hill: Downpour and my level of excitement or disappointment will dictate what I review. YAY FOR MYSTERY!