Three years into the pandemic and lots of people are so tired of the subject of COVID-19 that they simply pretend that the pandemic is completely over. Maybe this is why Blumhouse released Sick with so little press, with the trailer only arriving a week before the pandemic-horror movie landed on Peacock on January 13.
Pandemic movies come in plenty of forms. You’ve got movies that focus on a few remaining survivors, like 28 Days Later and The Sadness, in which viral illnesses turn people into violent zombie-adjacent creatures. Or you’ve got dramas like Contagion, which fit more squarely into the apocalyptic subgenre. And then, with 2020, quarantine horror became a thing. Horror films have always been an excellent conduit for expressing any anxieties, so opportunistic filmmakers took advantage of this to make films about the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantines.
Not many of the quarantine / COVID-19 horror movies to have come out since 2020 are very good, and so I don’t think my expectations for Sick could have been much lower. It was mainly curiosity that prompted me to watch. The other thing that made me want to watch Sick was the runtime; 83 minutes is just about the perfect length for a slasher (looking at you, Halloween Ends).
Written and produced by Kevin Williamson (Scream), Sick absolutely follows a predictable slasher movie formula — but it’s not without a few surprises. And directed by John Hyams, Sick has much of the same tense filmmaking techniques used in his 2020 film Alone. There’s just the right amount of shaky cam and jump scares, and there’s a great cold open that lays the groundwork for Sick’s premise. Hyams and Williamson make a strong team, along with co-writer Katelyn Crabb.
Sick follows college students Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Bethlehem Million) to Parker’s dad’s very fancy “cabin” in the woods, where they’ll be quarantining for their spring break. It’s a gorgeous house, with not another soul for two miles. Supposedly. Predictably, it turns out that Parker and Miri aren’t really alone; someone is watching them (and of course, all the huge windows in this home have no curtains). It’s a familiar home-invasion horror premise. While I don’t think that Sick will be remembered among great home invasion films like Funny Games (2007) or The Strangers, Sick is a great slasher and a very solid COVID-19 movie.
While 2020’s Host remains the first great horror movie about the early days of COVID-19, and one of the best, Sick is a good reminder of what April of 2020 was like. It begins in a grocery store; announcements reminding people to wear their masks blare as people shop the store’s nearly empty toilet paper aisles. Some of this was teased in the trailer, which really plays up the movie’s catch phrase, “Where’s your mask?!” This is a phrase that surely most of us have either had yelled at us, or we’ve had to say it to others, innumerable times over the past three years. There are a lot of great details in Sick about life early on in the pandemic — remember wiping down your groceries with Lysol wipes? Remember when the news wouldn’t stop going on and on about the pandemic?
Sick isn’t really interested in providing commentary or any opinions on the pandemic, thankfully. Parker doesn’t earnestly follow all virus precautions like Miri does, but the two are still friends. Miri patiently reminds her to wear her mask, over and over again, and is clearly more worried about getting sick than Parker is, but their differences in opinion don’t change the outcome of the film. What works so well about Host is also what works about Sick: They are both exciting, fast-paced, and unnerving. The lead performances by Adlon and Million are amusing; the two make great final girls. When Parker’s love interest DJ (Dylan Sprayberry) shows up with his college jock-bro vibes, he adds another layer to the dynamic between the two best friends.
Sick has a number of laugh-out-loud funny moments and surprising kills. There are a few jump scares as our two protagonists try to survive and stay away from the killer in the house, as well as a few really gruesome kills that are as hilarious as they are shocking. It’s clear that Sick doesn’t take itself too seriously, despite the serious premise. By the end of the movie, the killer’s motives are completely spelled out, in a way that some viewers are likely to predict. There’s a whiff of misogyny and a quick comeuppance; maybe it’s twisted, but it’s a very satisfying ending that made me smile.
Do I think that Sick is going to end up on anyone’s “best horror of the year” lists? No, probably not. But ultimately, Sick is enjoyable to watch, and it’s definitely one that I’ll add to my queue for my next pandemic-horror movie binge-watch.
If you’re keen to catch up on COVID-19 horror you may have missed, Dashcam is on Hulu, a 2021 found-footage film that follows an anti-vaxxer through London at the height of quarantine as she is haunted by a supernatural entity. That movie quickly became a hate-watch for me. Hulu also has Safer at Home, another 2021 release, in which a few friends meet over Zoom to party together. This addition to the genre from Will Wernick is pretty run-of-the-mill, but it’s serviceable.
If you somehow missed 2020’s Host, it’s basically the perfect quarantine movie. Host was released straight to Shudder at the end of July 2020, and it couldn’t have been more timely; this was right at the time when, other than the occasional outdoor and masked gathering, most of us were only seeing our friends and family on Zoom. In the movie, a group of friends get together for an online seance — and they get picked off one by one. Host is just under an hour long, and though it was not the first screen life film where the terror is a supernatural entity, it’s a classic in its own right.
I think it’s safe to say that most people have had their anxieties spike about the state of the world over the last three years, particularly in 2020. We’ve had to deal with isolation in varying degrees, and, arguably, the scariest thing about it all was the great unknown. I guess the least we can expect to get out of it are some fun horror movies to look back and laugh at ourselves with. Very goofy horror movies with outlandish kills and gore have not only become one of my favorite genres, but also favorite coping mechanisms. I’m glad to have another unserious pandemic movie like Sick to add to the repertoire.