“Sick” is an 83-minute thrill ride that commits hard and fast to serving up operatic levels of extreme survivalist horror.
Horror films have often been synonymous with exploitation. So, it makes perfect sense for genre titan Kevin Williamson to throw his flair for sinister phone calls, visceral thrills, cheeky humor, and hyper-aware teenagers into a blender with the horror of the still-ongoing COVID pandemic.
Paired with his Scream 5 assistant, Kaitlyn Crabb, Williams begins Sick with a title card placing viewers at the height of the pandemic in Spring 2020. In a panicked and shelf-barren grocery store, college student Tyler (played by Super 8 lead actor Joel Courtney) receives increasingly menacing text messages that establish he is being watched. The opening scene is familiar, but it quickly and ferociously announces Sick as a lean, mean operating machine worthy of its pedigree.
While it doesn’t aim to reinvent the wheel so much as have a gnarly time exploiting the tropes that Scream so successfully lampooned, the question then becomes if the script can smoothly mix in timely commentary with traditional slasher expression.
Although it’s a long-standing staple of the genre, overt social commentary in horror films can be polarizing for many.
Further complicating the matter is the main character Parker (Gideon Adlon from The Craft: Legacy). Parker is free-spirited, irreverent, and not entirely adherent to COVID guidelines, as evidenced by her continuing party antics and general refusal to wear the necessary personal protective equipment.
In contrast to her laissez-faire attitude is her better half and best friend, Miri (assured newcomer Bethlehem Million), who diligently masks up and has a spray can disinfectant at the ready. Miri is considerably more mature than Parker, but she is never judgmental or condescending.
This lived-in and authentic relationship provides an emotional anchor in a film that really doesn’t sit around idly for too long before the pandemonium gets ratcheted up to level 11.
Parker’s decision to spend quarantine alone with Miri at an isolated lake house provides a perfect backdrop for some dread, with the getaway being interrupted by the same threatening text messages that opened the film. At first, these messages are brushed off as simply an annoyance that can be easily avoided by simply blocking the phone number.
The creep level is only escalated, however, as the atmosphere becomes increasingly more claustrophobic when the unwelcome presence makes its way inside.
What follows is one extended set piece of heart-pounding chase sequences, body horror, and looming terror so strong and unflinching that it will take every ounce of cunning and resilience these girls have to fend off their attacker.
It’s all staged in agonizingly tense sequences of jeopardy.
Director John Hyams (coming off of the Universal Soldiers franchise and a particularly outrageous season 2 episode of Chucky) stages attacks in a fashion that elevates what could have been a generic death scene into something that feels more choreographed and precariously designed. The camera becomes its own separate entity, knowing exactly how to move and where to pull back in moments of stark panic.
One stand-out scene occurs on a raft, and its level of suspense, intensity, and brutality confidently enters it into the conversation of iconic water-horror scenes (along with Creepshow 2 and The Burning).
Whether on water, by land, via automobile, or on foot… the peril is unrelenting and singularly grounded.
Injuries and blows land hard, intensely, and with consequence) making Sick is a veritable sub-genre all its own: the action-slasher.
A strong visual language with regard to violence is juxtaposed with a campy edge to the tone and script (hashtag F**K Covid). Red herrings and motivations are played for laughs as a welcome alternative to weaker movies that can veer way too far off into contrived developments that aim to scare at the price of realism.
There are degrees of satire that should be nicely familiar to fans of Kevin Williamson, including humor that attacks technology, the COVID response, accountability, and social media. It almost feels like a welcome response to Scream 4‘s ahead-of-its-time themes.
If there is any criticism I can offer, it would be that it feels like a retread of earlier efforts without entirely sticking the landing or offering up anything especially unique or memorable.
Additionally, one plot development requires the viewer to suspend disbelief. A deus ex machina is employed late in the game, which leaves you wondering why the characters didn’t think of this solution 20 minutes earlier as opposed to in the final 15 minutes when it is more convenient.
Swallowing a pill like this is easy, though, if you are a fan of hard-knuckled, no-BS rollercoaster rides with great casts.
Jane Adams (from the Poltergeist remake) makes an appearance, along with Marc Menchaca and Dylan Sprayberry (Ozark and Teen Wolf, respectively).
Available to stream on Peacock (but solid enough to play in a theater with an audience where it belongs), this flick is slick, brisk, and wildly dedicated to chasing, smashing, and crushing familiar slasher/home invasion tropes.
The diagnosis is in, and Sick is a healthy dose of gore, thrills, and laughs — resulting in a temperature of 4.5 out of 5 stars.