Friday, October 7, 2011

Shocktober Day 5 -Horrors to Play- Session 9

It's day 5 of Shocktober 2011 which means I've made it through a full week of daily posts! Today is Friday which means a Movies to... AHEM... Horrors to Play post. In these posts it's a sort of hybrid between a movie review and inspiration for playing a one-shot game. Basically I pick out a movie I think would be fun to play as a one-and-done game. All this month on Fridays I'll be posting a horror movie that fits that description and matches the week's theme. This week I'll be reviewing the classic cult horror film Session 9 from 2001 since it's a great example of how props could be used in in our own games.

Session 9 is a nice small indie horror flick that has a small cast and is pretty much located in one location through out - an old abandoned mental hospital badly in need of renovation. That's where our characters come into play - they're the unfortunate crew of contractors hired to clean the place up in a week and make it basically livable.

There's a couple problems right from the get-go. One is that the five guys on the crew, while all are competent workers and seem to work together well on the surface have deep cracks that run between them. Another problem is that the crew boss is hiding some deeply unhinged feelings that are just waiting to burst through to the surface. And let's not forget the real problem - rumors of teenagers making trouble in the abandoned mental institute and that patients who were long ago de-institutionalized during the 80's have been found squatting somewhere deep in the halls of the asylum. These are all just rumors though, right? Maybe...

Session 9 is a tight film full of close moments in a very unsettling place. The asylum is broken down, hollow, and full of hundreds of little nooks and crannies where something - really anything - could be hiding. The threat is unnervingly elusive but also always-present. It's a movie with immense atmosphere that presents a workshop for all aspiring horror GM's out there. It's unrelenting and disorienting throughout. Just like with the main characters, the spirit of the place gets under your skin, and although there are times when certain characters do certain things that seem crazy, you can kind of understand where they're coming from. I know I couldn't handle being holed up in that empty(ish) asylum for a full week of 12 hour workdays.

But of course let's get down to the title of the movie. One of the characters discovers an old set of tape recordings from a string of treatment sessions recorded in the hay-day of the asylum. The subject is seemingly a young woman with multiple personality disorder, and the different voices that come up are chilling to hear when imagining they come from the same person through out. Here's where the true "to play" part of this post comes out, especially in regard to props. On Monday I wrote about several different forms of props to use in games, but one of the most interesting to me to experiment with is sound props.

There's pretty much nothing better that I could imagine to use for sound props than these session tapes. To think about them in more gamey terms, each tape/session recording could be its own fetch quest for the players. The tapes could reveal another tidbit of horribleness that is behind the game in the first place. It's a great conflict for the players to face. On one hand, it's an RPG, and everyone knows you have to complete quests to "win" a tabletop RPG. On the other hand, more and more terrible crap gets brought up, and the players are going to be confronted with the decision of having to keep digging or just finally get to the point where they throw their hands in the air and go "Alright, I've seen enough, let's get out of here!" Of course, if you're playing Session 9 using Dread (which I suggest doing so for all horror one-shots, but that's just me), the questionnaires should give each character a reason to keep pursuing the tapes and getting down to the bottom of the mystery.

It's that kind of compulsion that players will push up against that makes Session 9 such a playable movie. At any point the characters really should throw their hands in the air and leave, but there's a mystery to solve and character growth to attain! That, my friends, is a good sign for a powerful (and worthwhile) prop!

You can watch Session 9 right now on Netflix Instant Watch!

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