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Session 9 (Blu-ray Review)

Session 9Fear is a place… A “deft exercise in atmospheric horror” (L.A. Weekly) that takes place in an abandoned mental hospital, Session 9 makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy Scream Factory on August 16, 2016. This release comes packed with new bonus features, including interviews with cast and crew, and Horror’s Hallowed Grounds, a new revisiting of the locations of the film.  This “deliciously disturbing” (Us Weekly) thriller, directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist), features a talented cast including David Caruso (CSI: Miami), Peter Mullan (War Horse, Trainspotting), Paul Guilfoyle (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), Josh Lucas (American Psycho), Stephen Gevedon (Show Me a Hero) and Brendan Sexton III (The Killing, Boys Don’t Cry).

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Film 

It looms up out of the woods like a dormant beast. Grand, imposing… abandoned and deteriorating, the Danvers State Mental Hospital, closed down for 15 years is about to receive 5 new visitors.  Donning protective gear, the men of the Hazmat Elimination Co. venture into the eerily vast and vacant asylum that is filled with an evil and mysterious past. Rampant patient abuse, medieval medical procedures and rumors of demonic possession are some of the many dark secrets the hospital holds – but then so do each of the men.

I’m not sure anyone (Or anyone I know of) saw Session 9 when it was in theaters.  For all of us, it was that interesting new arrival on DVD at our local video stores back in 2001.  What was this?  It looked kinda creepy and you’d never heard of it.  David Caruso?  The guy who quit NYPD Blue in a horror movie?  There was maybe a shot that you saw a trailer for it on the home video release of the film Traffic.  USA Pictures was off to an interesting start with that and (one of my favorite films) Series 7 in the early 2000s.  Hmmm.  Regardless, most of us took a chance, and most of were really happy it was a chance we took.

When seen for the first time in today’s climate, Session 9 may not seem anything special in terms of its narrative, ideas and ultimate reveals.  We’ve seen so many films built like this in the last 15 years.  However, Session 9 was much ahead of the curve.  Its one that was doing this before anyone else.  At the time it was released, horror was very much of the jokey-teen variety with Scream and the films it heavily influenced being the dominant force as well as the rise of The Blair Witch Project.  Serious horror was few and far between.  Its likely that’s why this film never saw proper release, and its understandable; at the time there wasn’t an general audience for it.  It stuck out, but was something that few would probably take a chance on in a theater.

Even if you’re too clever for the film’s big mystery, there is far much more to appreciate here on a different level.  The film has some nifty effects for being super low budgeted.  It also has a unique haunted house feel that it absolutely nails to some expertise.  The film came about because those involved just wanted to make a movie in this abandoned hospital and just built a script from that.  And man, was that ever the idea.

The true MVP of the film, though, is director of photography Uta Briesewitz.  Her camera work (Working with early digital, nonetheless), holds up remarkably and looks even better on this Blu-ray.  Uta’s work has ensured this movie will chill audiences and have them scared just to set foot in this place for years to come.  Complementing her work here is the chilling score.  Its very soundscapy and moody and just adds another layer of terror to the already spooky visuals.  This film would honestly be pretty effective without the sound effects and vocals, it would probably be just as scary with just an isolated score.

Session 9 is primarily a cult classic because it really was never given a proper release for a chance to be just a classic.  And over the years, it has earned itself some popularity and a fanbase, but still is quite underground enough to still be something you can show others and let them discover.  You’ll notice it makes a lot of “best horror of 2000s” and “Best horror films you’ve never seen before” lists.  And its true, all of it.  Its crazy to think this film is already 15 years old and still something that could be very fresh to many.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Clarity/Detail:  The film was shot digitally back in the early 00s, but looks very good here in its Blu-ray debut.  There is a lot of groovy details, especially on the hazmat suits and the crumbly interiors of the brick building.  It’s all quite impressive considering the early HD shooting for the film.

Depth:  Depth is solid.  There are some great corridor shots and featuring loose looking imagery and a nice sense of long dank hallways. Motion looks a little blurry during really vigorous movements and natural.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and rich.  Some detail can be lost in darkness, however the shadows are an important part of the picture and it looks quite gorgeous.

Color Reproduction: This isn’t a very colorful film, but whites have quite a wonderful palette, be it the uniforms or the clouds in the skies.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural and consistent through the feature runtime.  Close-ups give a good look at detail on stubble, wrinkles, skin lines, scuffs and dried blood.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: This 2.0 track makes love to the wonderful sounds and great ambiance that is an important piece of telling this story.  Foley and and the soundscape are wonderfully captured with motion flowing back and forth and accurately set in the volume.  There is a terrific balance of vocals, score and effects as well.

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Crisp, louder and clear with every piece of diction from the actors’ capture well.

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Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • With Director Brad Anderson

Return To Danvers: The Secrets of Session 9 (HD, 48:53) – Interviews with director/co-writer Brad Anderson, actor/co-writer Stephen Gevedon, actors Josh Lucas, Brendan Sexton III, Larry Fessenden, composers The Climax Golden Twins and director of photography Uta Briesewitz.  An extremely detailed account of the production that features discussions of themes and intricacies of each character.  We learn of the film’s origins of being derived of just a desire to shoot in the building.  There are also anecdotes of the spooky things that happened during the production including a camera incident that resulted in the cinematographer almost getting lobotomized.

Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (HD, 20:13) – Sean Clark shows up at the exterior of the building but all the footage of the hospital here is stuff he shot back in 2004 before Horror’s Hallowed Grounds was a thing.  He does visit some other locations in the film in the modern day.

Deleted Scenes / Alternate Ending (HD, 9:40) – Features optional director’s commentary.

Story To Screen (HD, 10:01) – Side by side Storyboard & behind-the scenes footage compared with the final product.

The Haunted Palace (HD, 12:54) – An archived feature that has the cast and crew discussing the history of the Danvers hospital and its possible hauntings.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:53)

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Summary 

Session 9 still holds up quite well to this day.  It was sorta ahead of its time or one of the first, but may now seem like a predictable movie even though at the time it wasn’t.  Not predictable at all is that Scream Factory gave it a great Blu-ray release.  While it doesn’t tote the coveted “Collector’s Edition” label, this for all intents and purposes very much is.  It has EVERYTHING you’d be looking on one sans the sleeve and new key artwork.  The documentary on here is worth the purchase alone, but the presentation on the film is wonderful as well.  This a definite addition to your collection.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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