John Hyams’ Sick is a fairly straightforward modern slasher film, a sleek and claustrophic film with a final girl – but also with a major culturally aware bent. First, we follow Tyler (Joel Courtney) through the bare shelves of a Walmart-style big box store. A familiar but well-realized confrontation ensues: somebody’s watching Tyler, texting him from an unknown number and photographing him from just out of view. Tyler’s stalker wears a balaclava. He follows Tyler back to his apartment and tries to dispatch him with a big hunting knife.
Moreover, the pace of this opening scene has an unexpectedly varied rhythm, especially given its leisurely start. Before Tyler is attacked, we’re given ample time to soak up the dimmer-switch ambiance of his apartment, which is also jarring after the simultaneously vast and hyper-compartmentalized sterility of the above-mentioned Walmart clone.
The violence in this table-setting scene is also upsetting not only for its splattery brutality but for director Hyams’ merciless use of hard cuts on action, extreme (but coherent!) close-ups, and subtly disorienting long takes. It would be easy to overlook the polish and execution of this generic set-up, especially because Tyler disappears right afterward.
But Tyler’s not really out of the picture, though he is immediately supplanted by the real star of “Sick.” Parker (Gideon Adlon), a benignly self-absorbed university student, retreats to a secluded lake house with her loyal bestie Miri (Beth Million). Miri sighs and shrugs at Parker while Adlon’s bratty character avoids everything but the pursuit of simple pleasures: a tan during the day, a remote-controlled fire at night, and a joint with some finger foods before bed. Representatives of the outside world sometimes interrupt Parker’s vacation, but they’re nothing that she can’t handle. Like her clueless partner, DJ (Dylan Sprayberry), who follows Parker to the cabin without announcing himself. Or whoever’s sending Parker creepy texts from an unlisted number. Parker reminds DJ they’re in an open relationship because he’s desperately nervous about a suggestive Instagram post. Parker also blocks the mysterious texter. “Problem solved,” she says hopefully.
It’s not, of course, but that’s a good part of what makes “Sick” so thrilling: it’s a high-toned body count pic with instantly understood rules, as you might guess from the cryptic post-“Scream” text messages—“Wanna party?”—that both Tyler and Parker receive. (“Scream” screenwriter Kevin Williamson also has a co-writer credit on “Sick.”) And after about 38 minutes, DJ encounters another balaclava-wearing stalker, and this one’s just as relentless as the last. Blood flies, limbs tumble, and a frantic chase ensues. There are a few expected plot contrivances along the way, but if you’re thinking too hard about the integrity of WiFi and car tires, you’re probably not the right audience for this type of movie.