‘Scream’ Scribe Kevin Williamson Returns With ‘Sick’, A Scary And Viciously Relevant Slasher [TIFF 2022 Review]
A lot of modern content is smartly skipping the COVID-19 pandemic altogether. No matter the timeline, characters in film and TV are living mask free in alternate realities where our lives weren’t suddenly upended in the Spring of 2020. Sick, the first Kevin Williamson feature film project in over a decade, does quite the opposite. Directed by John Hyams (TV’s Black Summer) and co-written by Katelyn Crabb, this mean and scary slasher transports you smack dab back into the worst early days of the pandemic, using the vulnerability of that disheartening era to cleverly isolate and butcher its ensemble.
The opening sequence of the film takes you back to April 3, 2020 as a character navigates a grocery store where worried shoppers scramble for toilet paper. From these first moments forward, it’s clear Williamson and friends are taking us back to the basics established in the first Scream film. Familiar settings quickly lose their sense of safety with the sudden ping of an unknown phone call. While it’s not Casey Becker’s opening scene, the first ten minutes of Sick are brutal, lingering, and downright scary. It’s a strong foreshadowing of the type of horror movie the audience is in for. Lean, mean, and relentless.
The setup here is achingly simple. During the initial COVID-19 lockdown, Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Beth Million) are two college girls quarantined together at a magnificent, remote lakehouse. And it’s not long before they start receiving ominous text messages which then quickly crescendo with a brutal home invasion. Capable and active in their decision-making, Parker and Miri are fast to mobilize, and eventually unravel the shocking motives of their silent, masked assailant.
Perhaps the best power of Sick comes from the way it weaponizes the culture of the COVID-19 pandemic. Safety methods like masking, contact tracing, and social distancing are cleverly utilized to enhance the story and the horror. A particularly scary moment is packaged in a grocery store where a character receives a photo of themselves taken from behind. When they turn around to scout the crowd for possible suspects, they’re greeted by a sea of faceless masked strangers. Capitalizing on a period of time when the entire world wore masks is a clever device for a slasher film intelligent enough to pull it off. And Sick is whipsmart.
A COVID-age slasher might prove a hard sell for modern audiences who seem eager to pretend nothing has really changed in the past few years. But part of the scariness of Williamson and Crabb’s script comes from its unflinching approach to the shitstorm we’re all still facing. We’re more isolated and alone than ever. This has the red-hot potential to leave us not only vulnerable to a deadly virus, but to potential human killers lurking in the shadow.
What I love most about this movie is how scary it is. It wastes no time over-developing its characters or creating unnecessary misleads. Instead, the horrors of home invasion ramp up quickly and never settle back down until the closing credits. And while it might be hard to categorize it as “fun”, the pace is bullet quick and there’s absolutely no fucking around.
Sick acts as the antithesis to A24’s Bodies Bodies Bodies, a recent project with a ton of horror potential, but which ultimately never lets the spooky shoe drop. This, on the other hand, takes off both shoes and throws them right into the goddamn lake. There is no pretense to the horror here. It’s real and it’s relentless.
‘Sick’ is a mean and scary slasher that transports you smack dab back into the worst early days of the pandemic, using the vulnerability of that era to cleverly isolate and butcher its ensemble.