[review by JA Kerswell]
The Kevin Williamson scripted SICK (2023) certainly won’t redefine the slasher movie in the same way SCREAM (1996) did, but it is a fun, suspenseful and welcome return to the subgenre. It is perhaps surprising, given the seismic societal shift that the recent COVID pandemic caused, that more film makers haven’t used it as a framing device for their movies. Mostly - if not completely - free of post-modern horror references, Williamson’s darkly comic script equally lampoons those that took the pandemic seriously and those that didn’t take it seriously enough. However, it doesn’t lose focus on being a highly efficient slasher game of cat-and-mouse in its second half. If you bemoan - and I know I do - the lack of chase scenes in many modern slashers then you’ll be pleased that SICK has them in spades. As ever, Williamson isn’t afraid to explore the more outlandish side of the subgenre when it comes to motives. Inspired by some of the nuttier reveals of certain early 80s slashers, SICK gives it a decidedly modern update without losing that most important element: fun.
|COVID isn't the only killer in the Kevin Williamson scripted SICK.|
Reminiscent of SCREAM, the film opens with a Tyler (Joel Courtney), a college student, doing his grocery shopping at a supermarket at the height of the COVID 19 outbreak in April 2020. 97% of North America is in some kind of lockdown and fear and paranoia run rampant as people try to make sense of this new, disorienting reality. Where even one cough runs the risk of turning you into a pariah. Everyone is masked, which is a witty inversion of the trope of only a killer wearing a mask in a slasher movie. Again reminiscent of Williamson's breakout hit, Tyler receives anonymous text messages inviting him to party. He quickly rebukes them after the sender refuses to divulge their identity. However, again amping up the COVID paranoia, he receives a photo by text showing that the sender is one of the people in the queue behind him. But when he looks it's all just a sea of masked, anonymous faces looking back at him. Tyler quickly exits the grocery store, but it soon becomes clear whoever is sending the messages isn’t done with him yet …
We cut to college students Miri (Bethlehem Million) and Parker (Gideon Adlon), who are preparing to take a trip to Parker's father’s remote lakeside house to, as she puts it,: "… escape the plague." The friends have a very different approach to the outbreak. Miri does everything by the rule-book; spraying anti-bacterial spray everywhere she goes and with mask firmly stuck to her face. Whereas Parker takes a much more relaxed approach. At first their trip is idyllic, but Parker soon starts to receive texts that suggest whoever is sending them knows exactly where they are. She blocks the number and they get back to relaxing, before they are again interrupted by the arrival of DJ (Dylan Sprayberry), Parker's on/off boyfriend. Distracted by discussions about their relationship and alternating with hearty partying (including taking shots whenever Dr Fauci's name is mentioned on TV!), the three college students are oblivious to the figure in black watching them through the window …
|A killer hides in the shadows in SICK.|
Director John Hyams injects Williamson's script with the jolts of adrenaline that keeps the second half moving at an almost breathless pace. Hymans directed the effective slasher-tinged suspenser ALONE (2020) - and both films feature Marc Menchaca in notable roles. His talent for action and chase scenes was also honed on the refreshingly lean zombie horror TV series BLACK SUMMER (2019-2021). The ninja-esque attire of the threat starts almost phantom-like, before becoming much more visceral and violent. Again, SICK really excels at the projected cat-and-mouse chase scenes that see the three college students attempt to defend themselves and escape from this seemingly random attack.
The lakeside setting is purposefully reminiscent of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) and makes good use of the suspense potential of the isolated location. The irony being, of course, that the college students thinking they are taking steps to avoid one threat to their health have found themselves plagued by a much more virulent foe. Deftly, when you think that the COVID 19 hook has been all but abandoned by the slasher hijinks, it cleverly shapes the film's revelations and climax.
Williamson is as playful as ever with SICK. Although, arguably, some of his horror pop references are a little on the nose. One character says to another: "It could be Jason Voorhees out there!". And the other replies: "Impossible, it’s Saturday the 4th." However, these are kept to a minimum and Williamson favours exploiting the more ludicrous elements of pandemic etiquette. The best being when a woman hesitates letting a near hysterical character into her car because she doesn't have a mask; despite her attacker being close on her heels. Williamson does reference classic slasher movies in more ways than one. The location, as noted, is a clear nod to the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies. It's not the only nod, but I won't spoil the fun of discovering the other references. There is also an amusing nod to an iconic scene in SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984). As ever, it's a welcome reminder that Williamson was - and obviously still is - a fan of the more outlandish side of early 80s slashers. Again, I won’t spoil the ending, but the motivation for the mayhem might cause casual viewers to boggle their eyes, but for those raised on the likes of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) or THE INITIATION (1984) will appreciate its sheer, joyous lunacy.
Liberally splattered with the red stuff, SICK is a fast-paced, lean slasher throwback and is a welcome return for Kevin Williamson to the fold.
female: 1 / male: 5
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