Thursday, October 20, 2011
Scariest Characters in Cinema #14 - Mary Hobbes/Simon
The Danvers State Hospital, the location of Brad Anderson's Session 9, was a real piece of work. A psychiatric hospital that opened in the late-19th century, Danvers State closed in the 1980s as mental health care moved away from institutionalization in favor of assisted living and community-based programs. There have long been rumors and horror stories about abusive treatment of patients, shock therapy and lobotomies used to control the hospital's populace, and since its closure it had the definite aura of a "bad place," as Stephen King would put it. Danvers is about 40 miles from my house, and it wasn't uncommon for teens to sneak onto the hospital's premises late at night looking for cheap scares.
Session 9 was filmed at the hospital, and filmmaker Brad Anderson uses the location to marvelously creepy effect. As the hospital's interiors are explored by a small asbestos removal company hired to clean up the building, the crumbling walls, labyrinthine corridors and overall decay mirror the hospital's dark past and the mental strain of the film's characters, who are dealing with financial pressure and trouble at home with their wives and spouses (this tension results in the best delivery of the line "Fuck you" in the history of cinema). The film has an almost unbearable sustained atmosphere of dread, particularly on the tapes that one member of the team, Mike (Steven Gevedon, also the movie's screenwriter) discovers and listens to over the course of the film. These tapes are records of nine sessions with a patient named Mary Hobbes, a woman suffering from dissociative identity disorder. As we meet hear from Mary's multiple personalities - the childlike Princess and the protective Billy - and their unwillingness to discuss another personality, the absent Simon, we're given suggestions that something Mary has done something terrible. This is mirrored in the main plot which, like Don't Look Now, is constantly giving us fragmented visual clues pointing towards something very bad that has happened in the narrative's present.
We eventually hear from Simon, who speaks in a low, masculine voice that is nothing like Mary's. This is something I can't really analyze, but disembodied, threatening male voices in a horror movie are one of the quickest and easiest ways to freak me the hell out. Even a pretty silly movie like Insidious can still prompt me to turn the lights on once Rose Byrne hears that creeepy male voice on her baby monitor (eeagh...). When we learn what Simon did, and what is really going on with our protagonists, Session 9 becomes disturbing in a very tragic way - when Simon tells us he lives in "the weak and the wounded," the line and everything it implies is very hard to shake. Session 9 is the scariest horror movie in the last ten years, and one of the few movies that I absolutely cannot watch by myself. As for Danvers State, it was torn down a few years back. There are now condominiums where it stood - tell me that doesn't beg for a sequel.