Review: Although the framing device of COVID-19 may leave some viewers cold, “Sick” is aptly titled due to its clever camera movements, brutal action sequences, and polished design. A win for director John Hyams.
“Sick” is the latest action/horror picture from director John Hyams. It’s his follow-up to the 2020 film “Alone” and feels like a natural successor for the filmmaker. In both movies, protagonists are quickly pushed into a battle to save their own lives from relentless attackers that feel just shy from being the boogeyman reincarnated. While “Alone” takes place mostly in the outdoors wilderness, “Sick” opts for a luxurious remote cabin secluded from neighbors and the outside world.
I’m not too familiar with much of Hyams work beyond his last few releases, but it’s clear the veteran director has a keen eye for long action set pieces and grueling confrontations between good and evil. It’s also worth noting that his films rarely venture into the territory of being flashy. While he may have the skill and talent for a big budget project in the future, these aren’t that. “Alone” was a limited release in theaters and “Sick” went straight to Peacock.
I’d also be curious to see how Hyams picks his projects because he has very few writing credits to his portfolio at this moment. “Alone” was written by Mattias Olsson and “Sick” was co-written by Katelyn Crabb and Kevin Williamson (whose other credits include three “Scream” films and “I Know What You Did Last Summer”). I bring this up because for all the heavy lifting that John Hyams does with his slick camera transitions and punishing physical plot devices, there are some choices in the script that hold back the punch of what he’s accomplishing.
In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Parker (played by Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Bethlehem Million) choose to stow away at Parker’s lavishly decorated lake cabin to avoid possible contamination from the outside world. Although not entirely convinced that the virus is as dangerous as medical scientists and media corporations are claiming that it is, the two college students use this as an opportunity to disconnect from their friends and family around them.
That is until their first night turns deadly when multiple individuals slowly begin to enter the picture, including Parker’s on-again, off-again fling DJ (Dylan Sprayberry). Their harmless getaway soon becomes a fight to save their own lives in a film that pulls off one twist and turn after another.
This premise allows seasoned visionary John Hyams to stage cleverly placed tension points throughout the extended setting of a lake cabin surrounded by trees and water. It’s clear that from both the film’s visceral cold open and its ramping tension throughout the exposition that Hyams knows when to show his cards or when to hold them close to his chest. “Sick” milks every second of the clock in order to hide information from the audience, and Hyams uses long tracking shots to great effect and works with lighting to develop a specific tone for the film.
But I also imagine that he may be stretching the tense moments because he knows where the weaknesses are within the story. Its COVID-19 framing device is downright laughable at points and it comes to a head in a final revelation that nearly tanks that Hyams had worked so hard to achieve up to that point. Once the intentions of the intruders are fully revealed, it’s like watching a trainwreck happen in real time.
When this point happens in the film, “Sick” becomes less like a lean thriller with enough inventiveness to feel fresh and more like a typical “Halloween” film where Michael Myers just won’t die. An eerily deranged performance by Marc Menchaca manages to salvage some of the blown energy, but I couldn’t help but feel let down by how “Sick” chooses to end its story. Rather than being a tight genre exercise, it becomes a hollow critique on a generation that faux-doesn’t care about how COVID may affect us.
Even with a lacking story to combine with a highly orchestrated execution, “Sick” manages to stick out from typical thriller/horror fodder that lands on streaming services year after year. About two acts through, I was genuinely digging it – I basically had no fingernails left. The performances by both Gideon Adlon and Bethlehem Million are equally as winking as, say, the meta “Bodies Bodies Bodies” from last year, but they’re just in a film less interested in visual flare for style. “Sick” feels more like a perfectly concise Shudder release as opposed to what A24 typically goes for.
So while its commentary on generational concerns and COVID-19 may ring hollow and cause a few eyerolls, I still dug enough of what John Hyams accomplishes to recommend it to a fan of the genre. If you can’t stomach the despondent classics of “The Strangers” or “You’re Next,” maybe steer clear of this one. But if you’re a sick (no pun intended) and twisted individual like me, “Sick” may be right up your alley.