TIFF 2022: Sick, by David Bax
We’ve had a lot of “Covid movies” already, even though the pandemic is still an ongoing concern and far from being in our rearview. The movies that have attempted to address it head-on have mostly ranged from middling (the anthology film The Year of the Everlasting Storm) to outright terrible (Stephen Daldry & Justin Martin‘s Together). Films that have folded the ongoing, masked realities of life under Covid into their overall mosaic (The Worst Person in the World, Three Thousand Years of Longing) have fared much better. But I don’t think we’ve yet had a Covid movie quite like John Hyams‘ Sick (or at least not executed at this level of skill), a full-on genre piece that folds the specific paranoias (scolding others about mask etiquette) and realities (empty grocery store shelves) into a familiar but still fun as hell form.
Now, Hyams and screenwriter Kevin Williamson (for whom topicality seems to have injected a renewed vigor) are very likely courting controversy by playing on our collective memories and ongoing fears as fodder for a thriller. Certainly, there will be some who find the laughs at the expense of the extremely Covid-cautious to be inappropriate and tasteless. See Sick through, though, and I think you’ll find a wise balance of respect for the disease’s seriousness with gallows humor chuckles at how we’ve reacted to it.
Sick is a home invasion horror thriller with a fair amount of action, which will remind fans of the genre of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next. In this case, the invaded are two college students, Parker and Miri (Gideon Adlon and Bethlehem Million), and an uninvited ex-boyfriend, DJ (Dylan Sprayberry), who have retreated to the lake house owned by Parker’s wealthy parents to wait out what we all initially thought would be merely a weeks-long quarantine. Then, of course, a masked figure shows up and their mortal fear has a more immediate and visible inspiration.
Hyams employs horror tropes, like negative space in a frame into which we nervously anticipate the villain’s entrance, to great effect. Williamson also falls back on a trope that’s one of my pet peeves. Look, I don’t want to sound bloodthirsty but, if someone’s actively trying to kill you and you get the upper hand, don’t settle when you merely think you’ve knocked them out. Go for the kill. To Williamson’s credit, though, that’s not a lesson Parker and Miri have to be taught more than once.
What really drives the movie home, though, is Hyams’ near legendary filmmaking efficacy. I’m a recent convert but longtime fans will recognize his ability to be masterfully precise without ever becoming antiseptic. Each shot, camera movement and cut–as well as blocking and prop placement–are perfectly calibrated to make Sick as infectiously watchable as it is shocking.