“Rule number one,” Robert (Danny James) tells his new client in the first of several sessions that they have together. “I will be frank with you, and I expect you to be completely honest with me. No bullshit, ok? I want you to look at these sessions as a safe place, Parker. At the same time, I am gong to ask some difficult questions.” Experienced Robert is calm, precise, in control – although he is also bored and somewhat disengaged. In the opening scene of The Parker Sessions, as another client (played by the film’s writer/director/editor Stephen Simmons) ugly-cried, and repeatedly apologised for the crying, we saw Robert sitting impassively, and instead of writing notes, drawing a doodle of the weeping man being devoured by a monster. Parker (Rachell Sean), however, is different. Immediately undermining Robert’s authority, she is evasive, mercurial and devious – and from the very outset breaks Robert’s first rule with a series of statements about herself that flashbacks reveal to be flagrant lies.
Family man Robert, for whom covert drinking at work is just one of several problems, is himself not being as honest with others and himself as he claims, and so in the deceitful Parker he may have found his perfect match. Yet as Parker slowly reveals her troubled childhood with an alcoholic father who was ‘like Jekyll and Hyde’, and the current, crippling night terrors which prevent her sleeping and leave her in a wakened, weakened state of acute anxiety, the initial quirky comedy of The Parker Sessions quickly acquires a more alarming gravity. For through the transference, projection, displacement, rôle play and reversal that often characterise therapy, Parker is seeking a way to remove the stranglehold of her trauma and, as Robert puts it, to “let the monster come out of the shadows and face it.”
“It’s not a person, or a monster. Or a ghost. It’s a shadow. Everything from its footsteps pacing around outside of my house to the sound of it trying to break my window. Whatever it is, it just wants in.” This is how Parker describes to ‘Bob’ her night terror (embodied with disarmingly mundane schlubbiness by Guy Wheatley). The Parker Sessions is indeed a film of shadows – of the dark borderlands that separate a scared, vulnerable psyche from the living nightmare constantly beating at her door or putting its fingers around her throat. Those shadows are only accentuated by cinematographer David Komatar’s monochrome presentation, while Simmons uses time-jumping montages and contradictory cutaways to communicate something of Parker’s mental fragmentation, with her present always being violently invaded by the past.
Over the course of four formally titled acts, as this sly two-hander transgresses doctor-patient confidentiality and upends expectation, Parker’s sessions with Robert will show her an unexpected (at least for the viewer) path to table-turning satisfaction and sweet, sweet sleep, where recovery and revenge form equal parts of the talking cure. This is an assured feature debut from Simmons, where every word carries buried meaning, and where the leads’ archly combative pas de deux adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Along the way, as Robert promised if perhaps did not quite intend, difficult questions are asked – about the nature of abuse and the interchangeable monstrousness of abusers.
strap: In Stephen Simmons’ monochrome psychodrama, a counsellor and his insomniac client shadow-box over her ever-present past
© Anton Bitel