Tuesday, 4 July 2017
Asbestos They Can
Directed by Brad Anderson
Universal DVD Region 2
When I first joined Twitter, just over seven years ago now, one of the horror movies which seemed to get a lot of praise was a film I’d not seen, let alone heard of, called Session 9. Well, I finally just got around to catching up with the thing and, I have to say, it’s not ‘quite’ the scare fest I was expecting it to be.
The film deals with five people in an Asbestos Abatement Team who basically have to clear asbestos out of an old, abandoned mental hospital. They also only have one week to do it because Gordon, their fellow team member and boss, has promised the customer a quick turnaround and a lower bid than any other contractors who have given a quote, to sort the job out as speedily as possible.
The film is quite slow paced, which isn’t really a problem for me although, I have to admit, that by about half an hour into the movie, I was looking at my watch wondering if anything was going to happen. However, it’s not the kind of film which is overly reliant on shock/scare tactics, it has to be said. While there are a fair number of sequences of roaming down dark and dingy corridors filled with lurking dread and the possibility of a supernatural phenomenon just around the corner, the movie tends to be more akin to those old gothic horror stories which were always traditionally "English things to ponder" over the Christmas season.
Indeed, although the movie is bang up to date for 2001, when it was unleashed, the tone of certain passages did, instead, make me think of writers such as M. R. James rather than any of the contemporary screen classics of the time of the film’s release. In this respect there’s even a passage in the movie when one of the potential victims of the story finds a trail of gold coins belonging to the nineteenth century, leading to a cache of more hidden treasure which compels the gentleman in question to return to the asylum after dark, without the others. There seems to be no mention of why coins from the 1800s would be present in the asylum at all, although people familiar with some of the history of the area before the Danvers State Insane Asylum was around, which is the real life abandoned asylum where this was actually shot, might be able to square the presence of old coins in the area.
Interestingly for a film which has such great interiors, there was hardly any actual set dressing used, according to the movie makers. Instead, 99% of what you see in the film’s interiors was already there just waiting to be found and used by people. It’s actually one of the more interesting elements of the film and you can certainly understand why a film crew might be interested in shooting here.
The acting is all pretty top notch, with the five man asbestos team played by David Caruso, Peter Mullan, Josh Lucas, Stephen Gevedon and Brendan Sexton III... all doing a great job with the limited material they have on hand. This is a good little crew of performers and they are able to make the most of one of the screenplay’s strengths by using the dialogue and their body language to conjure up the often unspoken relationships between the various members of the team without, too often, feeling the need to spell it all out.
However, these elements don’t necessarily add up to a scary movie and if you are the kind of horror movie watcher who likes to see exclusively terrifying stuff, you might find yourself out of luck on this one. However, it does have a nice, slow burn quality which, clock watching aside, did get me staying with the movie until the end. When one of the characters unearths the nine tapes of interviews with a disturbed mental patient who houses a few personalities inside her brain, things start to get marginally interesting and a certain, almost but not quite, supernatural element to the movie creeps in... just enough for me to be able to safely label this film a horror movie, as opposed to a thriller. However, even after things intensify in their nature... it has to be said that the rigidly slow pacing seems to infect the movie like it has a stone hanging around its neck at times. It even has a character set up with nyctophobia but, although the writers do make use of this in a sequence near the end, I couldn’t help but think the exploitation of this weakness was a little more lethargic than necessary.
One of the things the film does well is that it has a fairly meticulous design layout and that extends to the shooting and editing too. In addition to the very simplistic design of the (real life) mental hospital, likened to a bat, we also have some nice transitions which parallel each other and show a sense of almost thematic symmetry at work within the way the shots are put together. For example, when one character uses a knife to make a vertical cut on a box, so too does a vertical knife slash accidentally cut the finger of one of the other characters. So little things like this make the movie worth sticking with.
Alas, the film has a ‘kind of’ twist ending. Now, the supernatural force at work here also goes hand in hand with something, or possibly someone, else here and, without me giving anything away to you... there’s a good chance you are going to see the ending coming way before it actually does. This isn’t a terrible crime, of course, and whether you can see it before it’s revealed or not is not the problematic part. The problem is that after the so called reveal, the film then walks around dwelling on it and explaining it for ten minutes when, honestly, it’s not that big a deal. The ending of the film is a bit of a weakness here, it has to be said and, though it didn’t spoil my appreciation of some of the other elements in the movie, it didn’t exactly make me think I’d spent the last hour and a half well either, to be honest.
And so that’s my experience with Session 9 which, looking at the atmosphere it tries to go for at certain times, might have been ‘inspired’ by the John Carpenter composition Reel 9 from his score to The Fog (reviewed here). It’s an okay movie for horror addicts but not all that scary, it has to be said. It might work better as the third or fourth movie of a gigantic marathon session where the pace needs slowing down a little, I would imagine, but as a stand alone I can’t say it did all that much for me, I’m afraid. Definitely for die hard horror fans only, would be my verdict on this one.