‘Sick’ Is A Thrilling Pandemic-set Horror You’ll Actually Want To See – Film Review

Early 2020 is not a place most people would be raring to revisit, even if it’s only on-screen. The days of toilet paper shortages and misinformation when people were hysteric and fearful and also, in hindsight, completely naive are brought back to us in the opening sequence of Sick.

We observe a man’s trip to the supermarket, where he is met with empty shelves inside and an eerie stillness outside, broken briefly by a man shouting at him to put his mask back on. When a balaclava-wearing, knife-wielding stalker murders the first victim before the title card appears, we know the type of film we’re watching, a classic slasher imbued with the absurdities of those early pandemic days. And in Kevin Williamson, the writer of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, we trust. The film, co-written with Katelyn Crabb, is directed miraculously by direct-to-video auteur John Hyams who, having cut his teeth on action films, brings a distinctive quality to the horror genre. And makes those kill sequences astounding. 

We soon meet two women leaving college just as lockdown rules come into effect, COVID-conscious medical student Miri (Beth Million) and her carefree, affluent party-girl counterpart Parker (Gideon Adlon), whose dad owns a large and isolated cabin that they’re going to quarantine in. Miri tells Parker to put her mask on, which she begrudgingly does and when they arrive, Miri wipes down their groceries and sprays the cabin with disinfectant while Parker receives the first creepy text from an unknown number. They’re later unexpectedly joined by Parker’s bad vibes ex-boyfriend DJ (Dylan Sprayberry).

Other than a short scene by the lake in which Parker receives another text from the person watching them, we barely see the cabin’s wider surroundings which help to build a sense of their disconnection from the rest of the world without showing how remote it is. The era of social distancing is also clearly imbued by playing with spatial relationships to provoke unease and fear. All of the camera work and choreography are a wonder. The film is filled with long tracking shots, panning and tilting. The smooth camerawork is so slick it’s creepy itself, much like the slinky movements of the killer who, like all good slasher villains, moves as if he’s supernatural. Hyams builds a sense of extreme unease so effortlessly, and the jump scares, which can easily feel cheap and manipulative, are well-earned and well-used.

Sick has two final girls and uses both well, especially when they’re separated and set on different missions. Adlon and Million do well to capture the sense of fear, confusion, resolve and an unquestioned survival instinct that all final girls must perfect, and they both carry the film together. However, the film’s highlight is undoubtedly the masterful chase, fight (and then murder) sequences. They are propulsive, visceral and genuinely thrilling. Gory and brutal in the most beautiful way and a testament to the direction, choreography and performances. They also make it a shame the film is not getting a wide theatrical release because it would be a hoot to watch in a packed movie theatre.

As the chase sequences ramp up and the height of the film unravels, the pandemic themes briefly subside despite the COVID-induced isolation being weaponized against them. It does feel as if the pandemic is just used as a set-up at the opening of the film and at meeting our two leads, and it’s not explored psychologically or culturally properly until the climax of the film. While many could have more profound and more complex allegorical readings of the film, as horror films are ripe for, Williamson and Crabb make the fear and anger, the visceral emotions of those early pandemic days, the focus. 

The idea of a film set during the pandemic is eye-roll-inducing to many. Detractors may say it’s too soon, exploitative, or unnecessary after the last few years we’ve been through. But that does sound like fertile ground for a horror movie subject. With Scream, Kevin Williamson revived the slasher genre with his keen insight into the youth, horror history and the cultural landscape of the time. And while Sick doesn’t feel as groundbreaking or wholly original as Scream, his insight is as sharp and clear as ever, and his partnership with John Hyams feels very exciting. And with only an 83-minute run time where the film never lulls or loses momentum, Sick is a perfect slice of pandemic horror, even if that’s not what you’re into. 

Sick premieres on Peacock on Friday, January 13, 2023.

by Maddy Sinclair

Madeleine (she/her) is a film student at the University of Winchester currently working on a dissertation on women killers in giallo films. She’s a big horror fan (the tackier the better) and also loves sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, she thinks her favourite films are Pan’s LabyrinthThe Wicker Man and Deep Red but she is also very indecisive. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madeleinia and Letterboxd here.

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