I recently watched the movie Dark Feed and, although I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I couldn’t really blame the film specifically as much as I am not a fan of the film’s subgenre. I’ve seen countless films that take place in some sort of abandoned asylum or mental facility or medical institution, and almost every single one of these films involves exposition involving why THIS facility has a more disturbing past than any of the others. THIS MAKES ME SO FUCKING ANGRY. As you might have seen in that review, I feel that if your film is taking place in an already terrifying location, you don’t need to add any plot points that involved discussing just how fucked up this place is. I know that there are some films that try to tell the story of a fucked up doctor, and he just so happened to work at this hospital and that’s the reason the events transpire there, but there’s a lot of films that try to heighten the already tense location with those backstories. While I was thinking of all the reasons I dislike most asylum based horror films, I couldn’t help but think about Session 9 and all the ways that it does things differently than all those other abandoned mental facility films. I wanted to revisit the film just to be able to cite more specific sources of why Session 9 is such a success and why it stands out as possibly the best horror film that takes place in an asylum.
Sadly, Danvers State Hospital was torn down so there’s no need to go there in search of any underwear David Caruso might have left behind.
Gordon (Peter Mullan) runs an asbestos removal company and has the privilege of being the one to remove asbestos for Danvers State Hospital, one of the largest mental institutions of its kind. With his wife having recently given birth, Gordon is desperate for this job and offers to do it in a fraction of the time that his friend and coworker Phil (David Caruso) thinks the job requires. One of the people that Gordon brings in, Hank (Josh Lucas), is currently seeing Phil’s former love interest so the tension between these two is quite high. Also in the crew are Jeff (Brendan Sexton III) and Mike (Stephen Gevedon), who becomes more interested in a series of audio reels of therapy sessions of a woman named Mary Hobbes. The more sessions that Mike listens to, the higher the tensions get amongst the crew, which doesn’t get any better when one of them seemingly skips town. The danger of the asbestos combined with the stresses of Gordon becoming a father and tension with Phil/Hank gets higher and higher the closer Mike gets to the final session, which is session 9. Think there’s where they got the name of the movie from or do you think it’s just a coincidence? Anyways, most of the crew start turning on each other, everyone getting more and more agitated, which ultimately leads to the death of members of the crew. When it’s revealed who is to blame for all of these things, you wonder whether or not this asylum brings the crazy out of people or if crazy people are drawn to it. I suppose it’s politically incorrect to refer to these people as “crazy”, but it sounds a lot better.
Having a closet like this makes picking out your clothes a lot easier.
Let’s get things started by highlighting ways in which this film is different from other asylum films. While Phil and Gordon are first getting a tour of the facility, their tour guide points out different pieces of equipment that used to be involved in treating patients. All of the things he points out are actual practices that at one point people thought would help but never generated any conclusive, helpful results. They don’t try to make this place seem that much worse or that much better than any other similar institution, but rather highlights the extremes that people used to go to in hopes of providing relief to the mentally ill. The film takes place in the fall, with 75% of the film takes place during the day and in large, open spaces found within the giant building. A lot of other asylum films focus on the events that take place at night and in these narrow, labyrinthine hallways and corridors to try to agitate the viewer. Adding in the element of the real world danger, which is the asbestos that the crew is removing, the audience gets more of a paranoid feeling thinking about the asbestos getting into someone’s lungs than any sort of supernatural experiences being hinted at. Although the different sessions that Mike listens to have a woman speaking in different voices, representing different aspects of her damaged psyche, there’s not really a distinct connection between the events taking place with the crew and the events being described in the sessions. Sure, there are similarities between some of the things that the voices on the tapes are saying, but it’s entirely possible that Mike could have stumbled upon a different series of tapes and heard just as disturbing of recordings. Most other films that incorporate plot points like this would have a more direct manifestation of the disturbing audio, possibly a ghost or something coming to life, but knowing that the film is called “Session 9” and seeing 9 sessions of audio, the recordings act as more of a timer for the audience, getting closer and closer to the climax.
Thus proving that you’ll get a lobotomy is you insist on telling people you’re Warren Beatty.
Even though the reasons that I most enjoy this film are the ways in which is departs from traditional asylum films, there’s still plenty of really good things in here that make it stand out in other ways. All of the performances are really solid, especially that of Peter Mullan and in the ways he shows his reluctance as a father. There’s a bit of dialogue where Phil mentions that Gordon never really wanted to be a father, and every scene after that really shows Gordon’s confusion and exhaustion with fatherhood and we get the feeling he only had a daughter in hopes of keeping his marriage together. The tension between David Caruso and Josh Lucas is really entertaining while also being really uncomfortable. Brendan Sexton plays the slacker type quite well, as always, but he also gets to participate in the most memorable shot of the whole movie. Having established that his character is afraid of the dark, we see him going into a tunnel that is lit by a series of lamps through a generator. As the generator runs out of fuel, Jeff turns to run out of the dark hallway. As he’s running, each successive lamp loses power, causing a striking scene of him trying to outrun the darkness. Even though I’ve seen similar scenes in multiple horror movies, it’s in this film that it’s pulled off most effectively, thanks mostly to Sexton’s genuine terror and franticness. The whole film is shot on a digital, grainy looking camera, so the whole thing feels a lot more like a documentary than it does a feature film. Add to that the fact that the film was actually shot in Danvers State Hospital, a well-known facility in paranormal field, and Session 9 causes quite a few surprises for both your average movie goer as well as a seasoned horror fan. Oh yeah, and this movie takes place in Massachusetts, and Massachusetts is the best, the movie also has that going for it.
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