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Sick Review: In Quarantine, No One Can Hear You Scream

  • The cast is great
  • The script is full of wit
  • The horror elements balance perfectly with the dark comedy
  • It never quite goes as far as you want it to

By the time "Sick" reaches general audiences with its streaming release on Peacock, we will be almost three years removed from the time it depicts: the uncertain, frightening, and chaotic weeks of early COVID-19 lockdowns in the United States. That means the new slasher film has a twofold challenge when it comes to unfolding its particular blend of horrors. It has to make us afraid because of the maniac with a knife pursuing its protagonists, but it also has to transport us back to a time when almost every aspect of our lives was imbued with a new sense of ever-present fear. It's a tricky thing to execute, especially after other COVID-centered movies have already come and gone with mixed results.

Happily, "Sick" manages to not only pull off this trick but have a lot of fun doing it. Led by a wonderfully game cast and a clever script by Kevin Williamson and Katelyn Crabb, the film manages to recapture some of that early pandemic dread while never letting up on the slasher tension throttle, delivering a single-location horror blast that'll also have you remembering just how strange the world was a few short years ago.

Luxury quarantine

"Sick" begins in early April of 2020 when almost the entire United States is under a stay-at-home order and everyone is still wiping down their groceries, wearing masks indoors and out, and occasionally throwing ill-advised pandemic parties. In this chaotic environment, college friends Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Bethlehem Million) decide to take advantage of canceled classes and get out of the cramped campus life in favor of an extended quarantine at Parker's family lake house. Parker, for her part, is just happy to get away and spend some time drinking and relaxing, while Miri sees the quarantine as a chance to safely ride out potential exposures until she can go visit her parents without infecting them. There's a little tension there in terms of their differing approaches to that pandemic, but that tension melts away when they arrive at the sprawling lake house, with its gorgeous views and near-total isolation from the rest of the world.

Unfortunately for them, the rest and relaxation is short-lived. Parker and Miri soon find themselves beset by uninvited guests, including some with a dark, violent agenda. With follows is a combination of home-invasion thriller and all-out slasher, packed with classic Kevin Williamson cat-and-mouse moments and a whodunit third act that'll leave your jaw on the floor.

What stands out right away about this story — and the way that Williamson and Crabb structure it in their script — is its ability to conjure something very specific about what the spring of 2020 was like for those of us living in lockdown, unsure of what our next move would be, and treating every step outside our own door like a calculated risk of some kind. It's not just a film that recreates things like wiping down our groceries with Clorox wipes or constantly watching the news, though. There's some more darkly comic at work in "Sick" — something incisive and bleakly funny about the ways in which we treated danger during this particularly uncertain era — that also applies to the way the characters treat danger when actual killers with knives show up on their doorstep. It's a remarkably adept dance, carried out with precision and wit by the cast, and it elevates "Sick" into the pantheon of good pandemic movies quite deftly and quickly.

Killers everywhere

With this balance between straightforward horror and incisive black comedy firmly in place, "Sick" also succeeds through the sheer force of filmmaking craft on just about every level. Direct John Hyams ("Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning") oversees it all with an eye towards tension over everything else, and he commands the nerve-tightening and loosening of the film with a steady, practiced hand. In true Kevin Williamson fashion — remember, this is the guy who wrote "Scream" — "Sick is full of wonderful moments of killers stalking their prey in unexpected, even witty ways, and Hyams handles them all with a sense of devilish delight, winding up each setpiece just so he can let it go in a laugh-and-scream-inducing climax of horror fun. Adlon and Million rise, both separately and together, to meet each of these moments, delivering an edge-of-your-seat movie that will simultaneously leave you grinning.

But "Sick" somehow manages to go further still, beyond the appeal of its wit and the solidity of its craft, into the realm of commentary on the long, strange journey of fear that we're in many ways still taking. This film has a lot to say about the concept of individual risk, both in terms of the pandemic and in terms of slasher films, and it says it all with clarity and lots of knowing winks, but then it keeps going. In many ways, the film's finale is about the sense of shared trauma, guilt, responsibility, and pain that all of us have dealt with over the last three years, much of it still buried under a simple need to just get on with our lives, however that may manifest for each individual person. "Sick" is, for all its popcorn movie appeal, an effort to metaphorically and literally wrestle with those complicated, truly messed-up feelings, and its efforts to confront them are both admirable and remarkably entertaining. There are ideas and audacious horror flights of fancy in this film that will stick with you for days after you've watched it, but if you're just looking for a fun little 90-minute horror ride, you'll get that too.

"Sick" arrives on Peacock on Friday, January 13.