Surely I’m not the only person who immediately looked up the meaning of “NOYFB.” The date is April 3rd, 2020, a few weeks since the Coronavirus arrival, and there’s nothing but confusion in the air with regards to what is really in the air. All we as humans can do (and are told to do) is mask up, maintain six feet, liberally use hand sanitizer, and secure mass amounts of toilet paper. That is what one unnamed college student is doing. As he makes his way through the store, a mysterious texter peppers him with messages asking him to hang out. The unidentified individual shrugs it off until it’s clear that the person texting is watching him, and the situation becomes distressing—and soon, fatal.

The next morning sees college friends Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Bethlehem Million) gearing up for a duo quarantine at Parker’s dad’s lake house before they part ways for a long while. Parker is dismissive about COVID, recently attending an end of the world party mere days ago, whereas Miri is apprehensive about the current ordeal and doing her best to follow CDC guidelines. She’s convinced to join nevertheless since the risk is minimal with just her and Parker. Just her and Parker…or so she thought.

Since 2020, there has been no glut of films either tangentially making reference to COVID through mask wearing and intentionally small casts, and/or placing their plots directly in it. The horror/thriller Sick does both and is similar to Alone Together in a weird way with its focus on the very early uncertainty of the pandemic days. This movie is better than that one and much less serious, even if it is kind of disposable.

Long-time television director John Hyams paces the events on-screen here, beginning with a impressively well-done opening sequence described earlier. Visually, Hyams leans a bit into slasher tropes, yet is able to stage a handful of close-quarter moments carrying more visceral “oomph” than seen in comparable films. Consistently white knuckled? Not quite, but a few scenes pop well with satisfying slasher bloodshed. Flourishes to a famous franchise are clear (more on that later), along with homages to Hyams’ other feature in Alone, Hush, and The Strangers. Really, there are a multitude of other films with similar settings, so Sick is merely existing on well-trodden terrain. There’s nothing super special, but sometimes a director’s job isn’t always to elevate, but keep things moving. Sick clocks in at a tick under 80 minutes.

The biggest homage Sick makes is to Scream, which makes a lot of sense as the movie is co-written by Katelyn Crabb and Kevin Williamson—the latter obviously the scribe heart of the early goings of that long-standing franchise. Distorted phone calls are replaced with texts, and a few of the plot revelations/fakeouts hearken back to 1996. One of Williamson’s stronger qualities is being in tune with how the young people of any given day sound, and here, that is no different. People sound like they’re supposed to. And like Scream—albeit to a lesser, hit and miss extent—Sick is interested in satirization.

The bits that land the best are chuckles oriented around the hidden hypersensitivity (mainly because of some 20/20 hindsight) in the air when juxtaposed with more immediate threats, while others exist merely as a chance to say “Remember that…that was weird, huh?” Williamson and Crabb start well, hit a lull in an early middle stretch before finding a second wind, and then gradually lose their temperature from the final act on. Spoiling nothing, the twist partly works for surprise; however, an inability to create likable or at least engaging characters out of the leads beforehand proves to be a hindrance to the point where one may wonder if a more chaotic ending would fit better. Sick clearly had no high aspirations, but 10-15 more minutes of character building (some subtext about responsibility and vulnerability is touched upon lightly and discarded quickly) could have done wonders.

As we get more and more distanced from 2020, should we expect even more of these types of films? Perhaps fittingly as it takes place during a time where all we were encouraged to do was stay home and go through all of the new streaming recommendations, Sick is right at home on streaming in that occasional high floor, low ceiling, and sometimes necessary subgenre of 90 minute “horrilers.” Sick is now streaming on Peacock.


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