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On August 10, 2001, two films made their debut in American theaters – The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, and Session 9, starring Peter Mullin, screamed into theaters with varying degrees of success. The Others was critically acclaimed, particularly for Kidman, who received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. Although not nearly as successful, Session 9 has become something of a cult classic, with mixed to positive reviews.

I saw both films in their original releases and it struck me then that any theater running both films would do well to bill them as a double feature (I made a point of telling the theater manager this idea, to no avail). Upon repeated viewing, thanks to the DVDs, I still think they’d make a great cinematic duo. For those of you who have not yet seen either film (and where have you been???), the premise of both is the Haunted House.

The Others

the others poster

The Others (2001)

The Others is a fairly traditional interpretation of the Gothic haunted house/ghost story. Set in an isolated English manor in Jersey, the Channel Islands, shortly after World War II, it is a locked-room mystery. The household servants have seemingly vanished overnight, with no explanation, leaving Grace Stewart and her two young children, Anne and Nicholas, to fend for themselves. In addition, the children suffer from a condition (Xeroderma Pigmentosum) that prevents them from being able to withstand the light from the sun. Their lives are structured within the confines of the multi-roomed, heavily curtained house, which is in constant shadow.

The arrival of three new servants (Mrs. Mills, Mr. Tuttle and Lydia), who have their own ties to the house, only seems to exacerbate the unsettling noises and incidents that the children insist are real and that prove there are ghosts. Being a strict Catholic with no room for the unexplained, Grace retreats further into denial, which only fuels the tensions between her, her children and the servants until, at last, she is forced to confront the truth.

1. Isolated buildings (house, asylum), further isolating the characters.
2. Death is the inciting incident, although it is not revealed until the end.
3. Weather is also an indicator – fog in The Others is limbo for Grace and her children, symbolic of their own uncertainty.
4. Grace’s stress manifests itself as migraines; they go away once she confronts her truth.
5. Photographs play an important role and are used to signal the film’s secret; for Grace, it’s a photo album of people after they had died.
6. Grace has a strained relationship with her husband.
7. Graves/cemetery on the property that links to the secret.
8. Both films skew towards one gender as the driving force, with the other gender in a supporting or other role – The Others is primarily female-driven.
9. Use of the location to demonstrate the character’s internal life – in The Others, the house is compartmentalized, much like Grace herself.
10. Grace holds a terrible secret that is tied to the inciting incident (#2), hidden not just from themselves, but from those around them and which is revealed, in the end, by a ghost.
11. Grace comes to understand and accept her role in her fate and that of her children, which is what resolves the film.
12. Grace and the children reclaim the house as theirs.

Watch The Others trailer on IMDb

Session 9

session 9 poster

Session 9 (2001)

Session 9 is set in the present day at Danvers State Hospital, an actual former insane asylum, a Gothic structure of deep, red brick built in the 19th century. It, too, is a locked-room mystery, a haunted house/ghost story, in which five asbestos workers, led by independent contractor Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullin), are hired to clear out a portion for city use.

From the moment he and Phil Cronenburg (David Caruso) drive onto the property to meet with a city official to pitch their bid, Gordon is mesmerized by the building, haunted by its shadows and items left behind by the patients and doctors, and even seems to hear a voice whisper his name (Hello…..Gordon). After winning the bid, they are joined by Mike King (Steve Gevedon), Hank Romero (Josh Lucas) and Jeff Fleming (Brendan Sexton III).

Each man is himself haunted and the asylum serves to act as a mirror – Hank’s desire to strike it rich is signified by his constant purchase of scratcher tickets and then finding old coins dating back decades within the walls of the asylum; to cope with his own stress, his concern over Gordon and resentment of Hank, Phil indulges more and more in alcohol and weed; Jeff is paralyzed by nyctophobia (fear of the dark) and is limited in where he can work; Mike, a failed law student, finds a box containing the recordings of counseling sessions between a patient (long since deceased) and her doctor and becomes obsessed with listening to them.

As the tension cranks up, tempers flare and a co-worker goes missing, the ninth and last session reveals who belongs to the mysterious voice that first greeted Gordon.

1. Isolated building, which further isolates the characters.
2. Death is the inciting incident, although it is not revealed until the end.
3. Weather is a mood indicator – although there is a rainy scene, most of the film features sunny days, Gordon’s attempt to put up the false front that everything is fine.
4. Gordon’s stress manifests itself as sleeplessness; because he is not able to reconcile his truth, he is unable to sleep.
5. Photographs play an important role – in Session 9, they were used as a form of therapy for the patients. This is replicated later in the film.
6. Gordon has a strained relationship with his wife.
7. Graves/cemetery on the property share links to the film’s secret.
8. Both films skew towards one gender as the driving force, with the other gender in a supporting or other role – Session 9 is male driven.
9. Use of location to demonstrate the main character’s internal life – Gordon end up weeping in Ward A, where the more extreme (violent) patients were kept.
10. Gordon holds a terrible secret that is tied to the inciting incident (#2), hidden not just from himself, but from those around them. This is revealed to him, in the end, by a ghost.
11. Gordon, wracked with guilt and grief, cannot accept his fate and therefore becomes the asylum’s newest resident patient
12. Gordon pleads with his wife that he misses her and that he just wants to come home.

Watch the Session 9 trailer on IMDb

As you can see, both films utilize the same themes and subject, but go in vastly different directions in terms of historical time frame, character and, interestingly, how one reacts to death and trauma.

This is not the first time similarly themed films arrived in movie theaters the same summer (Dante’s Peak and Volcano in 1997 and The Sixth Sense and Stir of Echoes in 1999) and, given that Hollywood relies on the tried and true, it won’t be the last.

Put together a double feature of these films for yourself one day and you won’t be disappointed.

Note – in 2006, Danvers State Hospital was sold to a developer and was completely gutted, leaving only the brick façade, to make apartments. Session 9 is the last film of any kind to show the asylum as it was after it had closed and prior to demolition. Don’t get me started – clearly, no one took the time to watch Poltergeist (1982), which demonstrates the dangers of building on haunted ground.

Danvers, Massachusetts was formerly known as Salem. Yes, that Salem.

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