Sick, the new slasher/home invasion film written by Kevin Williamson and Katelyn Crabb, opens with a mini-scroll. In addition to reminding audiences about the early onslaught of COVID, orders to self-isolate and the early death toll, there is a key establishing date: April 3, 2020.
The date is paramount in establishing the context for Sick. The film takes place during a single night in the very early days of the pandemic: a time when fear, distrust and, yes, rage dominated a lot of our interactions with anyone entering our six-foot radius.
There’s plenty of humor regarding COVID and its accompanying protocols, such as toilet paper shortages and refusing to assist someone in a life or death situation because they aren’t wearing a mask. We also see characters scrub down groceries with antibacterial wipes, an outdated practice that most people abandoned early during lockdown. Several of these moments are reminders of how society was reacting to the novel virus when COVID was still new. Hell, the main characters even play a drinking game when Dr. Fauci’s name is mentioned on Anderson Cooper.
The characters in question are Parker (Gideon Adlon) and her College roommate Miri (Bethlehem Million), who are self-isolating at Parker’s empty family cottage following the closure of their school. It’s just the two of them and Miri, the more cautious of the two, insists that Parker, who is more casual (verging on flippant), follow all of the health and safety protocols around masking and social distancing.
Naturally, the peace is quickly broken when Parker’s hook-up DJ (Dylan Sprayberry) arrives unannounced. He’s upset after seeing a social media post of her kissing Benji (Logan Murphy), so he spends the night trying to convince Parker to acknowledge their mutual feelings.
Like most slasher films, the first act is a lot of character development and world-building. The dynamic of the three characters is the focus, as is the geography of the giant, multi-storied cottage on the abandoned lake. In true Williamson fashion, the jokes, jump scares, and fake-outs come early and quickly; the screenplay has a rhythm that’s easy to invest in, particularly as the three characters settle in for the night and Nima Fakhrara’s ominous sonar-like score kicks in.
The anticipation of what is inevitably coming is absolutely delightful, but the payoff is even better. In the post-screening Q&A at TIFF, Williamson mentioned his love of chase scenes in horror and John Hyams, whose film Alone is a masterclass in tense set pieces, is the perfect director to bring that vision to life. Fans of the chase sequences in Williamson’s Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer are in for a treat. As soon as the masked assailant shows up, the chase is on and it doesn’t let up for the rest of the film. It’s a white knuckle adrenaline rush as the action covers the whole house, the woods outside, the floating raft on the lake and everything in between.
One of the film’s greatest assets is that everything is a potential weapon, including the usual assortment of knives and axes, as well as Checkov’s antlers, accelerant, and electric meat slicer. Everyone gets a moment to shine in the never-ending attack, and the violence – often filmed in unflinching long takes – is mean and vicious. As a result, Sick features innumerable wince-inducing trauma and cheer-worthy blows that will leave audiences breathless.
Arguably the least successful element of the film is the big last reveal. There is a killer motivation for all of this wanton death and destruction, but the politically-minded explanation will undoubtedly prove divisive. Audience mileage will definitely vary.
Thankfully the rest of the film is so strong that this is an easy recommendation. Sick feels like a welcome home party for Williamson: fans of Scream will find plenty of callbacks to his most famous work, especially the opening scene when college student Tyler is harassed by threatening texts before he’s attacked in his home. It is very clearly Crabb and Williamson’s hat tip to Casey Becker’s ordeal as if to say, “Williamson’s back, baby!”
Rest assured adrenaline junkies: Sick goes hard.
Sick premieres exclusively on Peacock on Friday, January 13, 2023.
Editor’s Note: This TIFF 2022 review was originally published on September 12, 2022.