REVIEW: The Parker Sessions (2021)

dir. Stephen King Simmons.

Shot in high contrast black and white, director Simmons brings the fire in his deeply personal feature debut. Following Parker (in a breakout performance by Rachell Sean) as she seeks the help of mental health counsellor Robert (Danny James) for her night terrors, the story is told in four acts, unfolding at a slow but unsettling pace that reveals the extent to which Parker’s inability to sleep affects her life and, throughout her sessions, the power and control Robert seeks in his relationships with his patients. Increasingly haunted by shadows, knocks, and noises in her home, Parker also has visions of a domineering male figure, whilst an unexpected turn culminates in a stunning, memorable finale, solidifying King Simmons’s entry into the genre as truly exceptional.

At its core a story about the lengths people go to in order to cope with – and heal from – trauma, the writing is strikingly accurate, portraying Parker as a sceptical new patient who has been through the mental health system many times before, and giving life to Robert as a counsellor with a superiority complex and a pathological need for dominance. The film also explores the relationship between light and shadow – quite literally – making for beautiful cinematography from DP David Komatar and accompanied by Simmons’ atmospheric, haunting score.

Whilst some of the visual metaphors might be a little on-the-nose (such as a carnival sequence featuring Parker’s distorted image in a funhouse mirror) Simmons wields these clichés with a fresh set of eyes, humanizing his main character, giving the audience glimpses of the real-life experience of PTSD, and capturing some of the beauty that still shines through a life impacted by fear.

And if by the end of the film there’s any doubt of Simmons’s intentions whilst making it, stay until the end of the credits. The Parker Sessions is bold, shocking, and satisfying in all the right ways.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Mae Murray

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