Toilet paper shortage, disinfecting groceries, religiously keeping up with Dr. Fauci updates; events so distinct from a definitive era in our lives. A time when fear and uncertainty took control, forming lingering trauma. A divide between those who took the virus seriously and those who treated it with contempt. The single day in question for director John Hyams’ new slasher/ home invasion horror film Sick is April 3, 2020. A title card immediately reminds us of the worst early days of the pandemic, when the government ordered us to self-isolate and the beginning death toll of COVID-19 dominated.
The premise is kept very simple, like all students in spring 2020, Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri’s (Bethlehem Million) college closed due to the violent spread of COVID-19. Miri is more cautious of COVID-19 than Parker, who treats the pandemic casually by continuing to attend parties and avoids following health safety protocols. The two friends decide to retreat to Parker’s huge, multistoried, vacant family lakehouse to “quarantine in style”. That’s when their intimate getaway gets interrupted by Parker’s ex-boyfriend DJ (Dylan Sprayberry), who arrives unannounced, along with some killers with a hefty vendetta.
Screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s first feature film in over a ten-year hiatus, along with co-writer Katelyn Crabb, bring us back to a familiar beat in Sick that we’ve seen before in the Scream franchise. The rings from your phone bring unease, and your setting loses its sense of security. There are also plenty of jump scares, humor, and fake-outs that would be expected from Williamson. We’ve already seen several TV shows and films include COVID-19 in their storylines, which has usually proved to be off-putting and distracting. However, Sick is intelligent enough to make this work for a slasher. Williamson and Crabb cleverly utilize the specificity of 2020 culture to enhance the horror and vulnerability of the characters as their own haunting presence in the film.
The first third of Sick effectively establishes its main character’s upcoming peril as we anticipate their realization of it. Hyams and cinematographer Yaron Levy cover both the intruder’s lurking hunt and our main protagonists’ hanging out in roaming shots. Nima Fakhrara’s sinister sonar tones contribute to the film’s building tension. The relentless action and well-directed set pieces by Hyams take advantage of the entire house, the outside woods, the lake, and the outskirts beyond. Everyday household items are used as tools or weapons. As soon as the masked stalker reveals itself, an extended cat-and-mouse chase begins, and the film’s pace is nonstop for the rest of its runtime. The violence is often filmed in long, focused brutal takes, which forces the audience uncomfortably close to the danger.
Parker and Miri are fantastic final girls. They are resourceful and capable, which eventually leads them to uncover the basis of their masked mystery attacker. Sick’s last big reveal is unexpected, a satirical commentary on the mania people brought out during the pandemic’s beginning. It takes that persona and dramatizes it at its most absurd. It’s not a particularly interesting or successful stance, but thankfully that doesn’t diminish the strength of the rest of the film. The slasher horror subgenre infamously sticks to a formula, keeping commentary light and allowing the adrenaline and gore to display. Even with its messaging hanging loose, Sick is a harsh and tight horror flick that, at the very least, will have fans of slashers delighted by its intense kills and fun play on troupes from the genre.