Todd reviews David Caruso's breakout film, Session 9.
Danvers State Insane Asylum opened in 1878 on an isolated site in rural Massachusetts. The imposing, gothic structure represents everything wrong and terrifying about a 19th century mental institution and may have been the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy. At one time, it housed 2,000 patients in a labyrinthine campus, with buildings connected by a confusing underground tunnel system.
Someone needed to make a horror film here. I’m sincerely glad someone did.
But it’s come time to demolish the glorious old place, so so the owners have hired a crew of specialists to do the dangerous and frightening work of clearing the facility of its ancient, lingering horror.
I’m speaking, of course, of asbestos abatement.
Phil (played by David Caruso) and Hank are partners in this venture, though it appears Hank is the ultimate leader of the group and a bit desperate for money. Much to Phil’s dismay, he underbids and overpromises.
You don’t need to be intimately familiar with asbestos removal to realize it’s going to take their crew of six a hell of a lot longer than Gordon’s promise of one week to clear more than three rooms in this mammoth structure. But they dive in anyway, donning hazmat gear, hanging plastic and removing tiles from the ceiling, floor and pipe insulation in the tunnels.
The group is eclectic and the characterizations really shine. Hank has stolen away and married Phil’s girlfriend, creating an obvious but complicated tension between the two coworkers. Gordon’s young and inexperienced nephew, Jeff, suffers from a severe fear of the dark, which isn’t much of a problem considering most of the action takes place in daylight. A law school dropout, Mike, gets constandly ribbed for his fall to such a lowly job. Gordon himself is a troubled man with a vaguely problematic home life.
After a fascinating initial tour of the facility, boredom began to set in. For the next forty-plus minutes, the crew explores the facility, jokes around, and halfheartedly carries out their prep work. They take lots of breaks to eat, rib each other and sit around. Mike finds a box labeled “confidential” and steals away to listen to recordings of a creepy psychiatric session with a multiple personality case. Hank becomes distracted by a modest stash of hidden treasure.
For a crew so worried about completing a daunting three-week job in a third of the time, they spent surprisingly little time abating asbestos.
I would like to be able to report that the filmmakers took their time gradually building a stifling tension. I would like to be able to say that the ending finally tied together a bunch of seemingly random occurrances into a coherent and satisfying payoff.
Unfortunately, as the credits rolled, all I could conclude is the most fascinating element of this movie became the asylum itself. Despite some interesting editing choices and associations, I ultimately felt let down by a confusing and hurried wrap-up that didn’t make much sense.
The film is well-acted. David Caruso’s gives a particularly interesting performance - one of his first and only film appearances since quitting NYPD Blue. Historically, Session 9 was also the first movie to shoot on Sony's 24p digital video cameras (and it shows). I hear it has achieved somewhat of a cult status today, but I honestly can’t see it ending up on anyone’s favorite film list.
I’ll go out on a limb here and guess this may be the first movie to center around asbestos removal. It may be the last. All the asbestos in the world couldn’t save the real-life historic hospital from a couple fires and a wrecking ball about six years ago, diminishing it to the modest apartment complex that stands today. To me, that’s the real tragedy.Now that you’ve seen the film…
*** SPOILERS ***
Did I just sit through an hour and a half to watch Gordon snap and kill everyone off in the last 3 minutes? Including the guy he just called in to replace Hank?
Give me a break. Was he possessed by the spirit of Simon? Did he slip into a dissociative state brought on by the storied and decaying surroundings? Was I supposed to see this coming?
I can’t help feeling that maybe Brad Anderson - an otherwise competent filmmaker - was going for subtle and went too far.
Simon’s quote at the end was pretty creepy, though.