Directed by: Brad Anderson
Written by: Brad Anderson & Stephen Gevedon
Producer: John Sloss
Starring: David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas, and Peter Mullan

When The Blair Witch Project became a box office sensation, I predicted it would usher in a new era of horror films. I thought everyone with access to digital video equipment would hear the call to arms and start turning out their own shockers. Because the movies would be made for little or no money, there would be no reliance on CGI ghosts and demons. No, these films would be very cerebral and would focus on characters. Movies shot on film stock tend to be one step removed from reality. These new films, shot on video, would not have this problem. They would make everything seem real, and therefore more terrifying. As with Blair Witch, they would build unbelievable dread and suspense until they delivered a climax so shocking that you would have to sleep with the lights on.

Sadly, this revolution never happened. But we did get Session 9, a film that does for haunted houses what Blair Witch did for camping.

As the movie opens, we are given a guided tour of the long vacant Danvers State Mental Hospital. It seems there’s asbestos in its walls and ceiling. By saying they can get it removed in just 7 days, Phil (David Caruso) and Gordon (Peter Mullan) win the contract. They quickly put together a crew of friends and family so that they can get the job done in that amount of time. If they succeed, a fat bonus awaits. But what else waits for them in this cavernous complex?

The pace of this film is deliberately slow. We are introduced to each of our characters and their issues: Gordon feels trapped in his marriage since the birth of his daughter, Hank (Josh Lucas) stole Phil’s girlfriend, and Mike (writer Stephen Gevedon) should be practicing law instead of doing this manual labor. We watch as the group begins to show signs of cracking beneath the strain of the unreasonable schedule and their own personal demons. Gordon is kicked out of his home and must sleep in the work van. Hank just doesn’t show up one day. And Mike has become obsessed with the long-abandoned records room. There, he finds a box containing the reel-to-reel recordings of therepy sessions with a dead mental patient–a girl who suffered from multiple personality disorder. Or was she possessed?

There’s a lot to love about Session 9. As the film winds its way through the dark corridors of this decayed asylum, we are given tiny hints and clues as to what is happening within these walls. A sense of paranoid dread is carefully nurtured here and we begin to question what these characters say to one another. Are these people telling us the truth? Can they be trusted?

This is not a picture you want to see alone at night. As I said before, video has a way of making things seem real. This, added to the great performances on display here (how can you not love David Caruso’s soft-spoken, “I’m better than you are” demeanor?) makes the film far too believable and the ending far more shocking. When the film was over, I felt as if someone has just given me an electroshock treatment. This is one that you can not help but think about long after the credits roll. In fact, just thinking about it now makes the hair on my neck stand on end and turns the skin on my arms to gooseflesh.

That’s just what a horror movie should do.

4 out of 5 stars