Film Review – Sick
Fans of Scream (1996) will find a lot to like in Sick (2022). The most obvious connection is screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who is responsible for penning both. Acute viewers will notice the similarities – Williamson goes so far as to copy the opening prologue nearly beat for beat. While this latest slasher doesn’t flip the genre in the way the Wes Craven-directed film did, it does make for a solid outing. This is a taut, muscular, and entertaining horror flick. Clocking in at less than ninety minutes, it comes in, does what it needs to do, and checks out before overstaying its welcome. Frankly, more movies should adopt that approach.
The biggest misstep is the insistence on shoehorning real world issues. Williamson (with director John Hyams and cowriter Katelyn Crabb) sets the story in April 2020 – just as the Covid pandemic burst on the scene. We get several instances of news reports detailing the spread of the virus, characters disinfecting their groceries, and talk of social distancing and toilet paper shortages. On one hand, setting a slasher during the pandemic is a clever way to isolate characters from society. On the other, using the fear that came with the disease makes for clunky motivations. Irrational decisions are made that directly tie to Covid, all of which are out of place. It brings down the narrative. Instead of being lean and mean, the inclusion of Covid sags the entire piece.
However, the action and horror elements work well. Hyams – whose career has primarily been in television – directs with a straightforward, no-frills style. There are a few technical flourishes, such as a funny dance scene shot in slow motion, but these examples are never overbearing. For the most part, Hyams (with cinematographer Yaron Levy) lets the action play out without getting in the way. There is an immediacy to the horror scenes, where our knife-wielding attacker charges at his targets at full speed, creating a strong sense of tension. The setting takes place in a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere. This allows plenty of opportunity for characters to maneuver in, out, above, and around the premises. Movies that take place in a single location run the risk of characters spinning around in circles, luckily this is not the case. The production does a good enough job of utilizing the available space so that each scene doesn’t feel repetitive.
The story is, well, pretty bare. Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Bethlehem Million) are college students going on break from school. To avoid contracting Covid, the two decide to stay at Parker’s family’s cabin to isolate during their off time. Things get a little messy when DJ (Dylan Sprayberry), a fellow student, shows up unexpectedly. Things get even messier (in more ways than one) when a killer wearing a ski mask and black clothes decides to stop by. The second act becomes a straight up survival film, as Parker, Miri, and DJ try to use their wits to outsmart the assailant and escape.
And that’s really all there is to it. The writing and direction don’t bother with character development once the chaos starts. The entirety of the second act takes place almost in real time, as we watch Parker, Miri, and DJ try to work their way out of a very bad situation. Hyams uses some tried and true horror tricks to ramp up the atmosphere. Doors that magically open without anybody noticing, music suddenly playing in another room, characters standing in the foreground just as the killer appears behind them, etc. These are all common tropes of the genre. Fortunately, the execution is strong enough to justify dipping back into that well.
Another good aspect is that our protagonists are not dumb. They make smart, understandable moves – they are not there to simply get picked off one by one. Sometimes, they even fight back to some level of success. It was good to see the production work around these potential landmines. Characters don’t trip over themselves idiotically, and the killer doesn’t flail about like a clumsy buffoon. We have a fast, efficient bad guy going up against young people who will not simply lay down and succumb to death.
In fact, the middle portion of Sick borders being great all on its own. When the writing and direction focus on the survival aspects, the suspense operates at peak form. It’s only when relationships are built and explanations are revealed do things fall apart. The first and third acts are weak in this regard, especially the third. Instead of the killer being a mysterious force of evil, they are given a reason for their monstrous actions. This decision falls apart badly, taking all the momentum from that point and stamping it with an undercooked punctuation. I simply didn’t buy anything leading up to and immediately following the climax. Thank goodness the movie doesn’t stick around for very long. If it tried to rationalize its twists any further, it could have jeopardized all the good stuff that preceded it.
When Sick is good, it’s pretty darn good. It’s not one of the best slashers to come out in recent memory, but it’s far from the worst. It adheres to what worked in the past and updates it for modern audiences. While it doesn’t succeed in every artistic choice made, it delivers on its advertising. I wouldn’t mind seeing Hyams, Williamson, Crabb and the rest of the production take another stab at this with a sequel. The potential to build something great is there.