A Focus on the Frightful: Session 9

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Session 9

Directed by Brad Anderson and starring David Caruso, Peter Mullan, and  co-writer Stephen Gevedon

I can’t even begin to say how much I love this movie. It’s always mentioned on “Best Underrated” or “Top Cult Films” lists and still somehow manages to slip under the radar. At the time of its release it largely went unnoticed, not even making back what it had cost. It’s a movie that can have two totally different interpretation. Two very different truths. And, unlike a lot of other movies, either one makes sense and the movie itself does not tell you which to believe. Whether that was their intention or not, I don’t know. It often seems like the best effects or subtext comes through when the director is not trying to consciously wedge it in there. As always, major spoilers ahead. If you haven’t watched Session 9 yet, go watch it then come back here.

Demons of the Mind

The main story follows Gordon and his asbestos removal company that has been hired to un-asbestos the Danvers State Hospital. From the start a few things are apparent. Gordon has a new baby that seems to be up all night, every night with an ear infection and Gordon hasn’t been sleeping well. Gordon also is in need of money as his deal that he works out with the city for the asbestos removal lands them a huge bonus but only if they complete the job in a week. Anyone who’s ever seen the Danvers State Hospital on anything would know what a huge task that would be. If not its made pretty clear from the start as they tour the building with the city contractor. For reference, here’s a picture:

So he’s basically promising the impossible. They figure they can get it done, though, by working overtime and hiring on an extra man, Gordon’s wife’s nephew. The crew seems to have all known each other for a long time but there’s a lot of tension. At least between Hank and Phil. As the job goes on things start to deteriorate and more friction occurs. Hank goes missing, presumably having run off to Miami and casino school. Mike gets more and more fascinated listening to a recording of a former patient of the hospital – Mary Hobbes, a split personality. Gordon reveals to Phil that he hit his wife and things are bad at home and Phil wonders if Gordon’s losing it. It all culminates in Gordon going on a killing spree and killing his teammates at the end of the movie. This is also where we learn the reality of what has been going on the entire time.

The basic timeline of events, boiled down, is this:

After receiving the contract Gordon buys his wife some flowers to celebrate. From the way they both look it looks like parenting and bills have been pretty rough lately. After he walks in the door they talk and then he accidentally gets boiling water spilled on his leg. This causes him to snap and he murders his family.

The next day Gordon goes to work, having blocked out the events of the previous day. He remembers having hit his wife and he thinks that he’s been sleeping in his truck ever since. Gordon’s really been sleeping in the Danvers hospital as clues show. Things start getting a little strange and tensions among the team run high. Hank and Phil, in particular have issues. Hank is ‘living with Phil’s ex-girlfriend but doesn’t really seem to care about her, he just likes that it annoys Phil. Phil, from the start, has been trying to get Hank booted off the team and replaced with a much more dependable man. Gordon refuses which makes Phil irritated. Their equipment also takes some damage (at some point, it’s not really clear when this happens) and Gordon sees Phil talking to two shady looking characters. Shortly after this, Hank doesn’t show up fr work. Phil calls Hank’s girlfriend Amy, who tells Phil that Hank broke up with her and is heading to Miami for casino school. Gordon becomes suspicious of Phil because he saw him talking to the two guys and nobody else heard the conversation between Phil and Amy, they only heard Phil’s side of it. Phil and Amy, however, are telling the truth. Hank, during an asbestos check has found a cache of gold, old coins and other valuables. So, knowing he couldn’t smuggle it out with the team there, he came back later that night and was attacked by Gordon. One of the clues that Gordon is actually living in the hospital is the jar of peanut butter that Hank finds in the tunnel. It’s the same jar that Gordon picked up on his way home from work for his wife. Gordon becomes increasingly paranoid and suspicious of Phil. After Gordon confesses to Phil that he hit his wife (in his mind) Phil thinks that Gordon is cracking under the pressure and is worried that they’ll lose their bonus if they don’t hire on some outside help, which Gordon has been very resistant to. Mike and Gordon’s nephew are kind of in the background for some of the movie. Mike has become fascinated with a recording from a former patient there. Mary Hobbes. She was committed for Multiple Personality Disorder and the tape is her recounting of the events that led up to her mind fracturing and being committed. The doctor continually tries to get Mary to talk about a mysterious ‘other’ personality named Simon. We hear her story threaded through the events of the movie.

At the climax Jeff finds Hank wandering around, lobotomized. As everything starts falling apart Gordon snaps and murders his entire crew. We (the audience) finally get to see the events as they really transpired. Much of what we have seen is real. It’s when we’re with Gordon, which is most of the time, that reality is skewed. Throughout the movie it has shown him trying to call his wife repeatedly, begging to come home and apologizing. Later we find out that the phone was broken the whole time.

Split Personality

One thing this movie does, and does well, is setting up the characters. We see Phil as suspicious right along with Gordon. His actions seem shady and with the hatred that he displays towards Hank it’s pretty believable that he might have killed him, or hired others to do so. All of the parts are very well acted, making you that much more interested in them. My personal favorite was Mike. I could definitely see myself getting absorbed in listening to old patient tapes and records. Plus, when things start getting heated between Gordon and Phil he just nopes out of the situation and goes back to listening to his tapes. The nephew, Jeff, is also a great character. At first he seems like your basic mullet-headed doofball but there’s a very touching scene between him and his uncle Gordon. It was a very nice touch and gives Jeff a little depth without going cheesy. Their conversation sounds very real. After Hank telling him that Gordon really needs the money Jeff goes to Gordon to talk to him and reassures him that he’ll work his hardest for him. It’s a very nice scene.

There are two ways that you can read this movie. The simple reading is Gordon, under pressure to be a father, pay the bills and keep his business afloat, snaps. But…then there’s Simon.

Mary Hobbes

Mary Hobbes is the patient we learn about through the tapes. Another part that’s so well-written. You get invested in a character you don’t even see. We listen with Mike to Mary’s story. It’s a little fragmentary but the gist of it is that one evening Mary Hobbes was frightened by her brother, Peter. She fell and cut her chest very badly on her china doll. To get even with him, ‘Simon’ through Mary (or with her complaisance) stabbed her brother to death and then killed the rest of the family.

During these tape sessions Mary’s personality shifts between her, a male personality named ‘Billy’, a childlike personality named ‘The Princess’ and a mysterious ‘other’ personality named Simon. The doctor keeps asking to speak to Simon but Mary (and her other personalities) are very resistant to this. It becomes clear, once Simon is introduced, that he is not one of Mary’s personalities. His voice is very different, as is his attitude. He is creepy. So, so creepy. Whoever voiced him (I’ll get to that later) did an excellent job. He’s creepy without descending into Bond villain territory.

Everything is so on-key with this movie. The acting is great, the story is tight and you can have two explanations without the movie really telling you what to think. There is one scene that slightly tips its hand towards the supernatural but even that is very minor so people preferring the ‘psychotic break’ narrative can easily brush it off as Gordon’s mind breaking down. But is he?


Simon, to me, tips it to the supernatural. As he’s presented ‘through’ Mary he seems much different than her other personalities. He’s much more calm and collected. The scene I was referring to above as slightly tipping its hand into the supernatural is near the beginning. Gordon and Phil are getting a tour through Danvers to estimate the time and work involved. During the tour you can clearly hear a voice say “Hello, Gordon”. Later it’s revealed to be Simon’s voice. It’s unclear in the movie whether or not Gordon actually hears it or not. He seems kind of zoned out when the voice speaks but he doesn’t really react to it. During the end sequence, as Simon is talking to the doctor on the tape the doctor asks why he did it. And Simon replies “Because Mary let him, they always do” and the ‘personality’claims that she wanted to do it. He also says that he lives in “the sick and the wounded”. Which Gordon certainly is. It’s the only overtly supernatural thing that happens in the movie. But, to me, it points to an outside intelligence taking advantage of a person’s broken psyche.

The Ending

I prefer the supernatural explanation but then, I usually do. You can read it either way you want which is what makes it great. There was an alternate ending and sub-plot concerning a homeless woman who had been staying there and who witnessed everything but viewers found it confusing with many of them thinking that the woman was Mary Hobbes. I’m personally glad they changed it because viewing things through her perspective rather than Gordon’s really takes away the emotional impact of the final few scenes. That is another area that the movie does very well. We hear enough to know what happened at Gordon’s house (and just hearing it is chilling enough) but that’s it. The director didn’t feel the need to show us every gruesome detail. I can honestly say this is one of the only movies that I’ve felt any kind of sympathy for a child murderer. I think this is due to Peter Mullens’ powerful acting throughout. He really makes you feel for Gordon throughout. No mean feat to pull off, finding out what you do about Gordon and what actually happened. The final scenes of him sitting alone in the hospital, speaking into a broken telephone and begging for forgiveness from his wife are very, very powerful.

Final Thoughts and a Bit of Trivia

This is the area where I stick any other thoughts that pop into my head but don’t really fit anywhere else.

I always found it funny that they’re supposed to be working overtime, trying to get this done but almost every scene is them taking a break.

One of the reasons that I watched the movie was the picture on the cover. Looking at it I noticed that it seemed really familiar…Then I played Silent Hill 3 again and realized where I had seen it before.

Apparently Team Silent liked Session 9. Or, at the minimum liked the image. The plot for Silent Hill 2 may have also been inspired a bit by this movie. It’s different in tone but there are similarities.

The movie also features two CSI actors, David Caruso (Phil) and Paul Guilfoyle (Bill Griggs, the guy who hires them. David Caruso was on CSI: Miami and Paul Guilfoyle is on CSI: Vegas.

It was filmed at the Danvers State Hospital. One of the few remaining Kirkbride buildings. The other is the Traverse City State Hospital which has since been converted into apartments and shops and office space.

I liked that it left it a bit open for interpretation. It does seem to lean toward the supernatural but ‘Simon’ could be in Gordon’s head. I personally think that Simon is either an evil ghost or demonic presence that feeds off of fear and pain. Gordon was just emotionally low enough for Simon to worm his way in.

So let me know what you guys think of the movie. Do you think Simon was an evil entity or Gordon’s bruised and battered psyche? Did you like it? Hate it? We’d love to hear about it!

3 thoughts on “A Focus on the Frightful: Session 9

  1. I’m a psychiatrist, so when I saw it advertised at the local cinema (I live in a small village in England) I had to go and watch it, and I was alone there (nobody else turned up). They still showed it for me, so it was even creepier. A very special movie and, having arrived here at the time when most of the old asylums were closing down, particularly interesting (now many have also been converted into apartments. Some are also incredible buildings). I hope the movie gets more attention here too. It deserves it.

  2. I’m so glad this movie has built up such a cult following. I thought it was very well made, and the acting superb. And then there’s the fact that it was filmed on the grounds of the old Danvers State Hospital, which is right up the street from us.

    1. That is so cool! I’ve always wanted to go there. The other building is around my area but way too many guards around it to sneak inside. Not that I would trespass or anything 😉 .

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