writer-director brad anderson is best known for Next Stop Wonderland, a small, character-driven romantic comedy starring Hope Davis and highlighted by an improvised supporting performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman.I'm guessing he wanted to change that image with a genre picture, so he made Session 9, a horror movie long on atmosphere and very short on explanation. When a work crew takes on a monumental job of asbestos removal from an abandoned New England mental hospital, a job that has to be done quickly, they discover that there may be ghosts in the walls, or beasts within, or something. Anyway, bad things happen.
Session 9's strengths are its extraordinary location, the Danvers State Mental Hospital near Boston, a sprawlingly atmospheric dump of a place, and Anderson's skill with the cast, particularly David Caruso and Stephen Gevedon, who also co-wrote the screenplay.
Cinematographer Uta Briesewitz does an outstanding job, particularly considering that the film was shot on digital video. Indeed, until the climactic scenes where the lighting style changes, one doesn't even register that Session 9 isn't shot on film.
These elements make the film worth seeing. On the other hand, Session 9's screenplay is strong on the what but weak on the why. After thinking about the film for a couple of days, I couldn't figure out if Peter Mullan's harried character just goes nuts, if the hospital is haunted, or what. It makes The Blair Witch Project seem like a model of narrative clarity.
Of course, it's been an unusually cheesy summer, even by the standards of recent Hollywood summers. When I look back on the season, the large virtues and small failures of a film like Session 9 are vastly preferable to, say, Tomb Raider or Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
SESSION 9 directed by Brad Anderson, written by Anderson and Stephen Gevedon, produced by David Collins, Dorothy Aufiero and Michael Williams, with David Caruso, Peter Mullan, Gevedon and Josh Lucas. A USA Films Production. An Odeon Films release. 100 minutes. Opens Friday September 21. For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 97. Rating: NNN