Nearly three years removed from the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns, more and more films are including the pandemic in their storytelling. This goes for dramas like last year’s The Falls, which used a quarantine setting to tell a beautiful story about mental illness and family to Steven Soderbergh’s tech thriller Kimi to execrable comedies like Judd Apatow’s The Bubble. One of the first films I saw that addressed the pandemic was the horror film Host, which used Zoom calls as its central conceit and was released mere months into lockdown. Sick is another horror film in this vein, this time a slasher film from director John Hyams (Alone) and co-written by Kevin Williamson of Scream fame and Katelyn Crabb.
The film opens in a ransacked grocery store as Tyler (Joel Courtney) tries to find toilet paper and other essentials. Throughout his shopping trip, he receives increasingly hostile text messages which let him know he is being watched. When he arrives home, he is attacked and killed by a man in a ski mask wielding a knife. The film then cuts to college students Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Beth Million), who are leaving campus following the cancellation of classes and a state quarantine order. The young women have a plan to quarantine together at Parker’s family’s luxurious remote cabin, and both post online gleefully about all the fun they plan to have. While out at the lake, they begin to receive similar messages to those Tyler had received. Tension ramps up when they spot an unfamiliar vehicle outside, but it turns out to be DJ (Dylan Sprayberry), a young man who believes he and Parker are in a relationship, though she feels it is something more casual. Parker and Miri agree to allow him to stay the night, but the next time DJ goes outside to his truck, an intruder who appears to be Tyler’s killer sneaks into the house. Much of the rest of the film is taken up with the standard slasher movie moments of running, screaming, and stabbing, though the film does have some interesting tricks up its sleeve.
The best part of the film is Hyams’s direction. The chase sequences and fights are well choreographed and kinetic. The action, as more killers are introduced, never gets confusing or loses the audience. The Williamson/Crabb script is a mixed bag. Near the end of the film, the way it uses elements of COVID-19, including masking and contract tracing, is very clever. But the middle section, even in an 83-minute movie, gets a little draggy. The main characters aren’t really interesting enough to make the audience care about them. It just feels like a wait between the horror sequences. This is disappointing, because Adlon and Million are serviceable in their roles, and a better script could have made all the difference. Another script complaint is naming two of the killers Pamela (a very good Jane Adams) and Jason (Marc Menchaca). On the surface, it’s a cute meta joke from a screenwriter famous for a meta franchise. But it’s also symbolic of the slavish devotion of so much horror, especially slasher horror, to the films of the 1980s. It’s beyond time to move away from it. As a short film encompassing just the third act, Sick would have been something special. As a full film, it often just feels like more of the same old slasher fare.
Sick is streaming exclusively on Peacock