Director: Stephen King Simmons
Writer: Stephen King Simmons
Cast: Rachell Sean, Danny James
Producer: Matt Tucker
Music: Stephen King Simmons
Cinematography: David Komatar
Editor: Stephen King Simmons
Cert: 18 (TBC)
Running time: 72mins
What’s the story: Troubled young woman Parker (Sean) begins seeing aloof therapist Robert (James). Will he help or hinder her struggle against demons from the past?
What’s the verdict: “A Nightmare by Stephen King Simmons” declares a credit during the opening of his debut, The Parker Sessions. A bold statement, as bold as the inescapable horror association of his first two names.
But, this short, sharp, shocking film is ripped from Simmons’ own experiences of night terrors and sleepwalking. Small surprise then that it has the texture of a fever dream as it unfolds. Although shot in start black and white, this is a grey, slippery beast, with power shifting between the spiralling Parker and her brittle therapist as they journey deeper into the shadows.
As Parker, debuting actor Rachell Sean delivers a fearless performance of vulnerability and rage. She anchors the film as it slips into the plastic reality of her character’s troubled psyche, cracked by past events. Danny James’s studied turn in inflexible authority is equally notable. Working at opposite ends of the spectrum, the actors’ exchanges boil and hiss like an active volcano.
All this risks tipping into self-indulgent chic-bleak. Rescuing it are frequent moments of genuine nightmare as Parker is beset by past demons, plus a through line of sump-stain black humour, and a third act reveal that reframes the entire film. A moment of Martyrs-level violence could have toppled the tone Simmons carefully creates, but instead binds theme and character for a genuine catharsis. Stick around for a bitter-wry closing acknowledgement compounding the film’s anger.
Likely due to budget, the writer-director opts for a style akin to mumblecore meets Darren Aronofsky. But belying his modest resources are the striking widescreen compositions, and an audio mix (created by Simmons) that plays like the sound of someone’s trauma.
For those who like their indie cinema uncompromising, we recommend booking a session at your earliest convenience.