'Sick': A Lackluster COVID-Centric Horror Film
It comes as no surprise that a handful of films featuring the COVID-19 pandemic have already been made and released. Most of these have been negatively received, as many of them feel like they are capitalizing off such a major world event as opposed to actually having anything substantial to offer. One of the few that actually felt genuine was Steven Soderbergh's Kimi, which used the pandemic as the backdrop for a tense action/thriller quite effectively. It gave me hope that future films set in the COVID era might be a little more enjoyable, or that they would at least be a little easier to tolerate. So when I found out about Sick, a Blumhouse produced horror film with a script co-written by Kevin Williamson, the mind behind such horror classics as Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, I was intrigued, but still slightly skeptical. While this is Williamson's first screenplay to be produced since 2011's Scream 4, the idea of a pandemic set horror movie feels like it could go either way in terms of quality. Going in, I could see this either being a major surprise or a bit of a disaster, but it ends up falling somewhere in the middle. It has some clever ideas and some decent direction from John Hyams, but it ends up feeling a bit slight and already feels somewhat dated.
Set in April 2020, near the start of the pandemic, the film follows Parker (Gideon Adlon), a young woman who takes her friend, Miri (Beth Million) to quarantine with her at her family's secluded lake house. They soon find themselves threatened by a mysterious visitor, and must fight to survive. Basically, the film takes on the trope of a group of young people going to a cabin in the woods and adds COVID-19 in the mix. The way it weaves this detail in is smart in some moments, but feels so forced in others. The humor it has in certain moments is particularly rough, as the jokes feel basic and as if they've been sitting on the shelf since 2020. The film is rather simple, which is probably for the best, but I couldn't help but want something more out of it. It feels like an amusing short film stretched to feature length, and leaves a bit to be desired.
I can appreciate what Kevin Williamson and co-writer Katelyn Crabb are going for with this film, but I feel like it never comes together. It honestly feels like a parody of Williamson's other work, as it tries to be relevant and a smart satire, but it feels so stale instead. Williamson's trademark self-awareness gives the film a healthy dose of levity, but it also makes it feel a bit too tongue-in-cheek for its own good in certain moments. I would think that Williamson's insightfulness would be the film's strongest asset, but it feels like he is phoning it in a little. He doesn't have much to say, and even the way that the film unfolds feels basic and uninspired. There are scenes where the film does start to come together a little, and the film's ending sequence isn't half bad, but as a whole, it just never fully clicked for me.
What did work for me are the moments of genuine horror. The way certain scenes are framed is so effective, and the way the film allows the villain to lurk in the shadows in various shots boosts the tension quite well. Director John Hyams does a great job with these moments, and he handles the violence and more intense scenes quite well. The third act is especially strong, even if certain plot points felt a bit weak. He has an eye for action and it shows during this portion of the film. His direction is rather strong throughout, which was a nice surprise, and it helps the film a fair amount.
I also felt that the performances were pretty decent, namely those of Gideon Adlon and Jane Adams. Adlon practically carries the whole film, and she feels so genuine throughout it. There is something so grounded about the way she plays her role, which allows the viewer to connect with her a little more. Adams is great as always, and I had no idea that she was even in this film when I started watching it, so her involvement was a nice surprise for me. She doesn't show up until later in the film, but she completely changes the temperature of the film and brings an energy that permeates the rest of it. A particular scene between her and Adlon near the end is definitely one of the best parts of the whole film, and both of them make it sing.
I really wanted to be fully on board with Sick, but I just never got there. It has some solid moments of suspense and the horror elements do work fairly well, but the film is bogged down by some questionable writing choices, and the way it depicts COVID feels too rudimentary to have any sort of effect. It is somewhat fun, but it still left me a little cold by the end of it. I can't help but feel a bit disappointed, even though I wasn't expecting too much from it, but I was still hoping for something more than what we get in the finished product. Maybe with time, I can appreciate this film a little more, but for now, I'm pretty split on it. It has its moments, but it is just too hit or miss for me to truly enjoy.