"Sick" a solid slasher with N95 masks

Sick (2023)

A COVID-era home-invasion slasher film has major potential. A COVID-era home-invasion slasher film co-written by Kevin Williamson already has “Scream”/“I Know What You Did Last Summer” fans pressing play. Pair Williamson’s writing with director John Hyams (whose taut white-knuckle survival thriller “Alone” was a 2020 highlight) and it makes for a well-paced, expertly tense match. It may not be a game-changer for the genre, but “Sick” is an exceedingly solid addition, throwing a timely coat of paint on a tried-and-true formula.

It’s April 2020 when COVID-19 cases are rising and 42 states have issued stay-at-home orders. “Sick” opens in a grocery store, where a masked Casey Becker substitute (played by Joel Courtney) gets playful-to-threatening texts from an unknown number. Let’s just say this good-looking college dude gets to wipe down his groceries with disinfectant wipes at home, but he does not graduate beyond the title card. From there, college friends Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Beth Million) mask up and leave campus to quarantine at Parker’s parents’ vacation lake house. The house just stays empty and the closest neighbor is two miles around the lake, so there isn’t a virus droplet around. It’s supposed to be just the two of them, enjoying a “Fauci” drinking game, until Parker’s non-exclusive frat-bro hookup DJ (Dylan Sprayberry) arrives unannounced to reconcile. Once the party ends, a masked killer with a hunting knife breaks in while the house is asleep.

Lean and mean, Kevin Williamson and Katelyn Crabb’s script develops these young ladies’ dynamic with economy. Pre-med student Miri is the more thoughtful and responsible one, abiding by mask guidelines and social distancing, while Parker is a little more flippant, emotionally unavailable, and just wants to have a good time. Being put through the wringer, Gideon Adlon (2020's "The Craft: Legacy") proves to be an especially tough opponent for the killer as Parker, and newcomer Beth Million also brings resourcefulness and intelligence to Miri. 

In Williamson fashion, there is one cute “Friday the 13th” reference and a couple of fake-out scares, but some of the writing could have benefited from even more personality before the chase begins. Catching the all-in-black killer lurking and entering open doors in the background is even an effective bit of framing that recalls the Omega Beta Zeta set-piece in “Scream 2.” A steadily shot race back to the house with the knife-wielding killer one arm-length behind is legitimately thrilling. Once the girls get to running some more and one of them gets resourceful by getting away on a wooden raft on the lake, director Hyams stages the hell out of the cat-and-mouse action, delivering an extended chase set-piece that keeps moving without taking much of a breath. Nima Fakhrara’s score also has an ominous sonar ping that sets an edgy tone, and the use of Erasure’s “A Little Respect” playing loudly on the house stereo is disquieting (and the song choice is not random).

Smashing the real-world horror movie of 2020 against a fictional horror movie seems to be a trend that isn’t quite over. Mercifully not just a gimmick, the pandemic is integral to this slasher-movie conceit that already hinges on isolation, and that element alone is frightening in its relatability. The third-act resolution—and the justification for setting the stalking and killing during early 2020—is very extreme but mostly believable given the hysteria we all lived through. No matter one’s qualms about the “why” of it all, “Sick” always has a setup that it satisfyingly pays off. Even if the most meta quality of this Williamson-written slasher is the streaming release strategy itself, it’s a tight, intense ride that’ll play perfectly inside at home with a killer outside your window.

Grade: B

Peacock is releasing “Sick” (82 min.) on January 13, 2023.