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Session 9 turns an abandoned asylum and digital video’s limits into assets

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Last Exorcism Part II has us thinking about other movies about possession.

Session 9
Prior to the 2001 thriller Session 9, Brad Anderson was known as a director of low-key indie dramedies like Next Stop Wonderland, and digital video had a reputation as persistently inferior to film. Both perceptions began to change after Session 9. Compared to today’s DV-shot movies, the film now seems fairly crude, but the then-cutting-edge 24p HD camera cinematographer Uta Briesewitz used was able to approximate film in a way that looked similar to cheap, B-picture film stock. Anderson set a tone to match, making a movie with the grubby naturalism of ’70s drive-in fare. Since directing Session 9, Anderson has been primarily a genre filmmaker, specializing in horror and suspense—and has become one of the best visual stylists in the low-budget arena.

Session 9 is a prime example of how Anderson learned to maximize his resources. Taking advantage of the inherent creepiness of an abandoned Massachusetts mental hospital, Anderson and screenwriter Stephen Gevedon crafted a story about an asbestos-removal crew who become fascinated by the history of the asylum they’re cleaning, and then start disappearing under mysterious circumstances. The clues to those circumstances seem to be hidden within a set of tapes found by one of the cleaners (played by Gevedon), who spends his breaks listening to recordings of an old patient who was diagnosed with a multiple-personality disorder. In actuality, the patient may have been possessed by some kind of malevolent spirit, which may have jumped into the body of someone on this crew: Gevedon, David Caruso, Peter Mullan, Josh Lucas, or Brendan Sexton III. The stellar cast carries a lot of the load, but Anderson also does a lot with this crumbling old building and a few sinister-sounding disembodied voices, giving new meaning to the concept of “possession” by letting the viewers’ imagination conjure a terror that remains largely unseen until the bloody final 10 minutes.

Availability: Session 9 is available on Netflix Watch Instantly and on DVD from Universal.