One of the really nice benefits of Netflix Instant is the ability to check out an interesting, lesser known director’s body of work. Brad Anderson, the director of today’s Netflix pick Session 9, also directed Transsiberian, Vanishing on 7th Street, and Happy Accidents, which are all available on Netflix Instant. This means that the majority of his work, minus The Machinist, starring a skeletal Christian Bale, is ready to be streamed from the comfort of your television. If nothing else, it results in an interesting mini-course of Brad Anderson films. Just think of the dinner party patrons you could impress with your new term “Andersonian”.
The overarching element of Anderson’s films is his attention to creating a palpable atmosphere. It could be argued that Anderson prioritizes these visuals and the subsequent atmosphere over plot. A perfect example of this thesis is Session 9. Session 9 begins with, and continuously leans on, its strongest component, an abandoned asylum. The makers of Session 9, Anderson and co-writer Stephen Gevedon, manage to create an effectively atmospheric horror film despite an uneven first act and even rockier bouts of exposition. They succeed in this because of that ambient style of Anderson. That atmospheric success could be dismissed by some because insane asylums are innately creepy. The argument could be made that very little work has to be done to create a feeling of dread when you are filming in an actual abandoned insane asylum, the atmosphere creates itself. That is when a knowledge of the director’s work is handy.
Anderson has continually shown skill in creating and utilizing the set pieces of his film to not only supplement the emotion of the movie, but to sometimes elevate a standard, borderline sloppy script into an effective experience. Like his other films, what Session 9 lacks in story is made up with pure tension created by the character’s surroundings. Session 9’s script deals with a group of people removing the asbestos from a crumbling insane asylum. Add in the requisite twist of this kind of horror movie, which is especially clunky on second viewing, and you have the basic idea of Session 9 all wrapped up.
When viewing the film though, there is the feeling the audience doesn’t have this story wrapped up in the slightest. Beyond the successful presentation and utilization of the asylum within the film, what allows Anderson to elevate Session 9 from a cookie cutter creepy asylum movie into an unsettling character study is a particularly effective use of voice over. This voice over comes to us in the form of taped recordings of an interview with a particularly disturbed mental patient that used to call the building home. The overall dread these recordings instill for the audience explain why they exist, but in true Andersonian style(see, isn’t that fun to say?), this voice supplies more than a simple creep factor. Through cross cutting and pure voice over moments, the recorded voice not only becomes an atmospheric tool, it plays as a story that runs parallel to Session 9’s own protagonist. As this fact becomes clearer and clearer, the dread and tension can’t help but be raised as well.
And this is truly where Anderson succeeds as a director. There may be sloppy exposition and giant leaps of logic in his films, but it is usually overcome by the visceral connection of the human senses. In Session 9 especially, what the audience sees, hears, and subsequently feels, ultimately overcomes any story shortcomings and creates an experience that will leave most horror fans a little shaken.