No one questions the bonafides of Kevin Williamson when it comes to pop culture horror. He created the Scream franchise, after all, beloved by millions and now discovered by a new generation of horror fans with this year’s sequel. But outside of the Scream franchise, can Williamson still hold his own in the genre? If Sick is any indication, that’s a resounding yes.
The Scream films rely on horror fans’ knowledge of the tropes of the genre and a lot of fun of those movies is seeing how the filmmakers subvert them. And while Sick plays with slasher tropes too, its purpose is far more complex and, frankly, smarter about how it does it.
Look, I’m as sick of the pandemic as much as anyone. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be, and I’m curious on how our movies and entertainment will address it in the coming years. There will be people who will want to avoid the subject all together, and then others who will try to understand just how much it changed our society and want the entertainment to reflect that.
For me, it’s all about the delivery, and the intention behind it. I don’t want to ignore these past two years and change. At the same time, I feel that if we’re to learn anything from it and grow we must find ways to talk about it. The horror genre, especially this year, has explored it obliquely, but Sick may be the most direct take on the subject matter.
It’s a slasher film set in the opening weeks of the pandemic, and the pandemic fills the film with context, meaning, and a sense of place and time. It’s about how our relationships with each other have changed as much as it’s about the pandemic, and it uses the pandemic, and the horror genre, to point out some important social truths, while remaining a tense, riveting good time.
It’s quite possible that there will be people who see Sick and be angry that it mines such a tragic, important event for our entertainment. We’ve all lost someone or know someone who has. I don’t envy the marketing department who have to sell this one, and all I can say without giving away the twists of the story is that Sick isn’t a movie interested in making judgments but instead allowing the audience to make up its own mind.
It’s also a film that wants to show the wide array of how we responded to the pandemic, and how it’s changed how we trust and relate to each other. The fact that it does this in the bones of a slasher movie just confirms to me that maybe the horror genre is the best genre to talk about this stuff, and the genre that has the most accurate read of the pulse of society.
The premise is a simple one – it’s early April 2020, and stay-at-home orders in the United States have been brought down across the country. Parker (Gideon Adlon), though, has a plan – her family has a secluded vacation lake house in the country, and there is no better place for her and her friend Miri (Bethlehem Million) to hunker down and stay safe.
Sick reminds us of those chaotic days – how we sprayed everything down, our grocery stores empty hulks, how everyone looked at everyone else who walked past them with not a little side eye (and frankly, still do).
Parker’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, DJ (Dylan Sprayberry) shows up uninvited – he and Parker are having relationship issues and DJ wants to get them resolved one way or the other. That night, however, someone breaks into the house, and what was supposed to be a quiet quarantine on the lake turns into a fight for everyone’s lives.
Does Sick treat the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, or mine it for laughs and jump scares? Can I say both? There are genuinely funny moments, especially how we reacted in those early days, but I feel that it’s respectful about it, or at least as much as it can be for the movie to work. There will be people, frankly, who will reject the film utterly, and that’s fine; the losses are still too close for many to have perspective on it.
But what I can say about Sick is that this is one of the best slasher movies to come down in a long, long time. It’s genuinely scary, each jump scare is well orchestrated, and there is some ridiculously -complicated stunt work and tension building that director John Hyams juggles seemingly effortlessly.
It respects the tropes of the genre, knows what we expect, but instead of using pop culture references to subvert it like the Scream franchise does it uses how we relate to each other in these pandemic years to make informed, interesting character and plot choices that propel the story forward in unique, imaginative ways.
This movie’s crazy smart – none of the characters behave stupidly and throughout Sick we as the audience are constantly questioning what we would do in their place. The script by Williamson and Katelyn Crabb is crackerjack, and I feel that it has an accurate read on human nature and a pragmatic worldview, but not so much that it ceases to be fun.
I don’t want to dive in too much into the twists and turns the plot takes, but I do believe that it handles where it goes with sensitivity, but again, it’s a matter of perspective and there will be audiences who will reject it due to their own experiences with the pandemic. That can’t be helped, and all I can say without giving away the store is that I hope audiences see it with an open mind.
Miramax produced Sick, but it currently doesn’t have a release date. I hope that changes soon – this is a movie geared for a Friday night audience, and if people can accept the premise and all that contains, I think they will be in for a rollicking good time. Sick is whip-smart, sharp as a butcher’s knife, scary and thrilling in all the best ways, and informed about the times in which it’s set and has things to say about how we are still coping with all this trauma without being heavy-handed about it.
This is one of the best slasher movies I’ve ever seen, frankly. It treats the subject with respect, but it also knows when to ease up and let the audience have fun with it. I’m throwing it down here – I loved this more than any of the Scream movies, and I hope to revisit it for a long time to come, long after the pandemic, hopefully, will be in our rearview mirrors. Sick is sick in all the best ways.