Beyond the Slimy Wall: Session 9
By Stephanie Star Smith
June 17, 2004
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
This week we have another film on tap that wasn't received with warmth during its theatrical release, but is worth your time nonetheless. On the surface, it may look predictable, but I can honestly say the film kept me guessing as to exactly what was going on and who was behind it until the final reel. And when you've seen as many horror films as I have, that's quite an accomplishment.
Session 9 follows the story of an asbestos abatement team who have been called in to bid a job at an abandoned mental hospital. The movie opens with the bid process, which also serves as an excellent method of getting all the exposition out of the way in the space of just a few scenes so we can get right to the good stuff, a hint of which pops up during the requisite tour of the facility. We quickly learn the company is desperately in need of this job, the boss is having some issues dealing with his new baby - who, judging by the pics shown, has something more seriously wrong with her than "an ear infection" - and that the hospital can't be torn down because it's been designated a historical landmark, so it's scheduled instead for renovation with the end goal being using it as a hotel.
With all the boring backstory established, our team wins the job when the boss promises they'll be done in one week, which is shorter the minimum time he stated during the Exposition Tour was needed to complete the job safely by a good week. Everybody goes home and work will start on Monday. It's not clear at this point what day the Exposition Tour is conducted, but the filmmakers kindly label each successive scene as occurring during a specific day, so we know how close our protagonists are getting to their promised end date. We close out Exposition Tour Session 9 after following the boss home to share the good news to his wife and not-looking-like-she's- a-normal-baby daughter.
Come Monday, we learn there are two other regular members of the crew, and a fine demonstration of nepotism allows the boss's not-the-brightest-light-on-the-Christmas-tree cousin to come aboard and help get the job done on time, which will not only add much-needed money to everyone's coffers, but result in a substantial bonus for each. Things get underway, we get a few more choruses of the Exposition Song about who stole whose girl, who's a lazy-assed slob, who should have been studying law to make his pappy happy instead of doing manual labor, and an interesting bit of sordid history regarding the mental facility. All this finally takes us to the point where things start to go a touch wonky, and continue to do so over the next three days, with the conveniently-titled Friday being our denouement.
Session 9 is certainly derivative in its basics, but as I said at the outset, you're not completely sure you know exactly who or what is behind the strange goings-on, nor are you quite certain of exactly what is happening until the film's Friday arrives. One of the things I really liked about the film is that the scripters and director treat the viewing audience as if they have brains and thus might like to try and suss out the mystery on their own. Red herrings are strewn throughout the script, and the director employs several oddly-framed shots to keep the viewer questioning his/her conclusions. And probably the most brilliant device employed in this endeavor is the use of blackouts at strategic moments, so instead of being omniscient, the viewing audience starts to wonder along with the HazMat crew, precisely what's happening.
But perhaps the coolest thing about Session 9 is it doesn't feel the need to explain eerie little thing. There are a couple of plot points that are never made entirely clear at all, and we don't see what happened on the other side of the blackout until the very end. The filmmakers also don't spell out for the viewer exactly what happened; the viewer is left to decide for himself the true nature of the movie's events and just who or what was responsible. A movie that has you thinking even after the reveal in the final reel is definitely worth just about an hour-and-three-quarters of your time.
A couple of interesting bits of trivia I picked up from the IFC Channel version of Session 9: it was filmed on location at Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, which was, in fact, a mental hospital until it was closed in the '80s. And the psychiatric session tapes used in the film also came courtesy of Danvers; actual tapes from the hospital were used as the basis for the ones in the film.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.