Combustible Celluloid
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With: Peter Mullan, David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Josh Lucas, Brendan Sexton III, Larry Fessenden
Written by: Brad Anderson & Stephen Gevedon
Directed by: Brad Anderson
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief strong violence
Running Time: 100
Date: 07/01/2001

Session 9 (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Going Mental

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A few years ago, two Andersons (no relation to me) made extraordinary splashes on the movie scene with Bottle Rocket and Rushmore (Wes Anderson) and Hard Eight and Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson). Around the same time, another Anderson (still no relation to me) made a much smaller splash, but the ripples from that splash have continued to spread ever outward.

That Anderson was Brad Anderson -- and his little romantic comedy Next Stop Wonderland won many hearts, most of them after its video release. Now Anderson's next two films, Happy Accidents which spent a year on the shelf, and the new Session 9, see the light of day nearly simultaneously: Session 9 opens today at the Roxie, while Happy Accidents opens in Bay Area theaters next week. That's one way to avoid your sophomore slump -- show us the junior first and the sophomore second.

While Happy Accidents skillfully combines romantic comedy and science fiction, Anderson went full-blown with a chilling horror story for his new film Session 9. Apparently, Anderson found a mansion-sized abandoned hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts and crafted a creepy little story around it.

An asbestos clean-up man named Gordon (Peter Mullan) takes the job of fixing up the mansion in only a week's time, and he brings his usual crew along: Phil (David Caruso), a would-be lawyer Mike (Stephen Gevedon), Hank (Josh Lucas), and Gordon's mullet-head nephew (Brendan Sexton III). Each of the men quickly becomes obsessed with some little thing on the job. Mike begins listening to long forgotten audio tapes of a therapy session, while Hank discovers a hoard of old-time coins and treasures buried in the wall. Gordon himself is having trouble at home, but the details are only gradually revealed to us (something happened to his leg and he keeps limping around). The men begin to slowly bicker amongst themselves as well, not helped by the fact that Hank is now sleeping with Phil's girlfriend and loves to taunt him about it.

The horrors in Session 9 are all internal -- there are no ghosts or zombies or chainsaw-wielding maniacs, just shadows, strange images and half-seen clues. I'm happy to see that truly scary films like this and The Others are returning to theaters after the success of The Blair Witch Project two years ago. Anderson treats his material right, using the immense building to brilliant advantage and giving us little scares and quickly snatching away their explanations -- never giving anything completely away until the movie's end.

But knowing the final turnout, the character's motivations don't always make sense. When we look back, not all of the pieces fall neatly into place. I wasn't able to buy that Mike becomes suddenly and immediately obsessed with just one particular set of tapes, involving a woman with multiple personalities. (The story on the tapes is supposed to mirror the modern-day story, but it doesn't quite mesh.) Some of Phil's actions -- such as secretly paying off a couple of thugs for some unknown purpose -- cease to make sense. During the initial ride, however, Session 9 gave me the tingles, and I got a big kick out of it.

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