Writer/director Stephen King Simmons’ black-and-white feature The Parker Sessions sees a young woman named Parker (Rachell Sean) attend sessions with therapist Robert (Danny James), and she immediately starts working on his detached, authoritarian demeanor by refusing to follow his set of rules and calling him “Doc” even though he reminds her that he is not a psychiatrist or psychologist. She also withholds information from him to which viewers are privy, but increasingly dark secrets lie ahead as the strong-minded, game-playing Parker and the stern Robert play mental chess with each other on the way to a truly gruesome climax. Written and performed with the immediacy of a stage drama — the film is mostly a two-hander — but opened up to a wider cinematic world courtesy of nightmares and scenes outside Robert’s office, Simmons gives viewers plenty of opportunity to try to get into the minds of the two lead characters before delving into a nightmarish world of sleep deprivation and night terrors. Simmons’ crackerjack editing also contributes greatly to the unnerving proceedings, building to the scorcher of a third act. Sean’s film debut is a mesmerizing one, and she throws herself into the role of a troubled — and troubling — character who gives new meaning to the term “unreliable narrator.” She and James play off of each other marvelously, and Simmons lets things simmer, slowly ratcheting up the tension. This is fine independent horror cinema with a solid story based on Simmons’ real-life experiences, a bravura lead performance, and skillful direction.
Directed by Glenn Payne
★★★ out of ★★★★★
Killer Concept is a comedy about a trio trying to come up with a decent script for a horror film based on an ongoing true-crime case in the characters’ small town. Screenwriter Seth (Coley Bryant) wants to sensationalize things with blood and bare breasts, much to the chagrin of successful true-crime author Holly (Casey Dillard) and project photographer Mark (Glenn Payne). Holly wants to stick to the facts, even though Seth insists that the killer’s method of murder — strangulation — makes for a boring movie. Mark is even more bothered by Seth’s straying from the facts because, as is revealed during the first few minutes of Killer Concept (so not a spoiler), he is, in fact, the real killer, unbeknownst to his two colleagues. Much of the humor — some of it dark, some much lighter — comes from trying to collaborate on the creative process, and from Mark arguing about what the killer would and wouldn’t do, and why or why not. There’s not much horror on tap during the first two acts, and then the third act heads in a more straight-horror/thriller direction, becoming somewhat predictable, something the first two acts avoided well. The film belies its $900(!) budget, as it looks and sounds like a much more expensive affair. Payne helms Killer Concept well, and does a terrific job portraying a serial killer trying to act as a normal man, and hoping to find romance. He, Dillard, and Bryant have good chemistry together. Overall, it’s an entertaining film about filmmaking and the trials and tribulations of teamwork — with a serial killer on hand.
Directed by Mel House
★★★ out of ★★★★★
Mystery Spot finds several lone people experiencing odd circumstances, ranging from strange behavior to the supernatural, in and around an old motel built across the street from where the titular tourist trap once ran. Prolific horror actor and director of Sequence Break Graham Skipper portrays Nathan, a man who films actors’ auditions while asking them uncomfortable questions. Nathan’s new neighbor is Rachel (Lisa Wilcox), a woman who photographs the property. Policeman Leon (Bobby Simpson II) watches them both from his car across the street, keeping an eye on the other goings-on at the motel, as well. Motel owner Mel (Lyle Kanouse) seems as potentially disturbed or disturbing as he is cheerfully welcoming. These characters and others find themselves in unsettling circumstances in writer/director Mel House’s enigmatic film, which doesn’t easily offer up answers to its many questions. I’m avoiding spoilers here, which makes writing a synopsis difficult, but viewers should go into this film knowing as little as possible. Those who give into its eerie, puzzling air — and who don’t require answers neatly tied up and presented — should find plenty on which to chew. The performances of Skipper and Wilcox are standout ones, with turns by other cast members ranging from good to a bit stiff. House goes for puzzling material and a sinister vibe rather than gore or jump scares. He has crafted an unusual chiller that will reward those seeking out unconventional independent horror fare.
Reviews by Joseph Perry
The Parker Sessions, Killer Concept, and Mystery Spot screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest, which returned to the big screen this year with in-person attendance at London’s Cineworld Leicester Square from Thursday, August 26th through Monday, August 30th, 2021 and then presented an online edition from September 1st through 5th.