Miri (Bethlehem Million, L) and Parker (Gideon Adlon) avoid COVID-19 and a killer in "Sick". Photo courtesy of Miramax
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- Horror movies often present allegories on modern anxieties. Sick, which screened Friday at Beyond Fest, is explicitly about the COVID-19 pandemic, with a sick twist, as it were.
On April 3, 2020, a stalker is killing people as they gather supplies from barren supermarkets and shelter in place. That weekend, college students Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Bethlehem Million) isolate at a remote cabin by a lake, where the stalker pursues them too.
Sick uses the pandemic to put several clever twists on the slasher movie genre. The young girls are alone at a cabin in the woods, but it's because they were instructed to go somewhere isolated.
Also, it's hardly an Evil Dead shack in the forest. It's really a middle-class vacation home.
In-fighting is as much of a danger as the knife wielding killers. Miri is following protocols way more strictly than Parker so that causes friction, and then Parker's boyfriend DJ (Dylan Sprayberry) invites himself to boot.
Sick sets a scene with which 2022 audiences are acutely familiar, and will be indicative of this era for generations to come. The innocent cough in a supermarket checkout line that freaks everyone out, terminology like droplets, wiping down groceries and Anderson Cooper news reports are early COVID shorthand.
Director John Hyams creates an unsettling tension when he repeatedly shows the killer slipping by in the background. The otherwise meticulously composed cinematography reverts to handheld whenever the killer strikes, and a messy scuffle ensues.
The messy scuffle is still organized chaos. It's not a free for all, but the stylistic shift works seamlessly without drawing attention to itself.
There are necessarily only three potential victims here, which keeps the cast small but also challenges screenwriters Kevin Williamson and Katelyn Crabb to keep the scares coming. You figure at least one of them has to survive, so Sick will have to make any kill count.
Each kill is more elaborate and satisfying than a simple stab. Both the killer and the survivor have to work for it.
The cat and mouse game between killer and victims ensues as the kids manage to stay one step ahead. The killer catches up quickly though, so the survivors have to think on their feet.
The characters make smart decisions, but the killers anticipated them so there are no cell phones or vehicles to rely on. Unexpected new dangers continue to befall the characters just when they think they've made it to safety.
The pandemic comes back mid crisis to remind the characters and the viewer that even if they survive the night, they've still got at least two more years of COVID-19 to face. The film's take on the pandemic will provoke debate in a good way, but those will be spoiler-filled debates.
Sick is the most inspired pandemic movie so far. All due respect to Steven Soderbergh's Kimi, but Sick reminds us there are still a few things scarier than COVID while also offering hope that there are ways to survive them all.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.