starring Gideon Adlon, Dylan Sprayberry, Beth Million, Jane Adams
written by Kevin Williamson
directed by John Hyams
by Angelo Muredda The Spring 2020 lockdown gets pulled out of the cultural memory hole in Sick, where vulgar auteurism favourite John Hyams proves himself a capable new aesthetic partner for screenwriter Kevin Williamson's aging Gen-X insights. A satisfyingly nasty and well-executed cold open sets the scene, updating Scream's terrorism-by-home phone set-piece with a killer who's a passive-aggressive texter and summarily dispatching a reluctant young mask-wearer who comes home empty-handed during the great toilet paper drought of April 2020. From there, it's off to a remote country house with actual protagonists Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Beth Million), the latter more COVID-conscious than her reluctantly isolated social-butterfly friend. Their plan to ride out quarantine in relative seclusion soon falters when Parker's sometimes-boyfriend shows up, paving the way for a worse door-crasher: the athletic, text-happy, black-clad killer from the opening sequence.
In addition to being a slick and fleetly paced–if at times over-telegraphed–home-invasion thriller, Sick is a unique time capsule for a phase of our tangle with COVID several variants and waves in the rearview. Its investment in public health as a moral imperative (albeit one some unforgiving types take too far) feels weirdly quaint, arriving at an inopportune moment as most, including the current U.S. president, proclaim the pandemic over. The film's hyper-specific setting is a sobering reminder of an earlier phase where even twenty-somethings stayed home in the name of public health–although these idiosyncratic period references become annoyingly anthropological, the filmmakers seeming a bit too taken with their repeated shots of characters mindlessly wiping down groceries and their stale-milk gags about the unexpected sex appeal of Deborah Birx. Though its last act reveal is a bit ropey in conception, Sick works pretty well as a pulpy meditation on the impossible horrors of being young in a pandemic and balancing personal responsibility, hedonism, and social health, as well as the futility of putting a face on an amorphous villain like COVID. If Sick ultimately mines much of the same thematic territory as It Follows, where the only way to vanquish a curse was to sexually transmit it to an unsuspecting new host, it does so in a refreshingly grimy and less moralizing way, playfully serving the genre requirements of the humble slasher rather than just using it as a vehicle for social commentary. Programme: Midnight Madness