You Probably Still Haven’t Seen the Best Slasher of 2023
Sometimes, there’s nothing better than a straightforward slasher thriller.
We’re living in an interesting era for horror movies. Over the past decade, filmmakers like Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, and Jennifer Kent have brought interesting new perspectives to the genre, while the creation of streaming services like Netflix and Shudder has made it easier for filmmakers to get their low-budget thrillers in front of more viewers. Never before has the horror field felt quite as diverse, experimental, or exciting.
But no matter how — dare we say it — elevated the genre becomes, its fans will always be hungry for new versions of the cold-blooded, straightforward thrillers that have been the cornerstones of horror for decades. That’s where films like Sick come in. The underrated slasher doesn’t reinvent the wheel or do anything particularly out of the box. It’s a bare-bones, by-the-numbers home invasion movie that’ll remind you why certain formulas don’t always need to be broken.
The film received a relatively low-key wide release earlier this year when it debuted on Peacock in January. As a result, while it’s earned plenty of acclaim from those who have seen it, Sick hasn’t yet received the level of mainstream attention it deserves. Fortunately, it’s still available to stream, and we can’t think of a better way to honor the end of 2023 than by celebrating one of its biggest, most underrated gems.
Sick is set during the uncertain days of March 2020. The story follows Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Beth Million), a pair of best friends who decide to quarantine together at a secluded lake house owned by Parker’s parents. Their quarantine is quickly interrupted by the arrival of Parker’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, DJ (Dylan Sprayberry), but that’s not the only unexpected development that turns their would-be peaceful vacation upside down. Before long, Parker, Miri, and DJ are forced to fight for their lives against a mysterious, knife-wielding home invader.
To say much more about Sick’s plot would spoil the provocative twists packed into its third act. The film’s script, co-written by Scream writer Kevin Williamson, boasts the same to-the-point efficiency and ruthlessness as his and Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher classic. It isn’t quite as meta as any of the Scream films, but it’s infused with the same love of the slasher genre that courses through that franchise.
Sick isn’t just content to hit all the same beats as so many of the slasher films that have come before it — it’s thrilled to do so. That’s clear from its brutal cold open, which follows an unsuspecting college student as he’s pinged by ominous text messages, followed home from the grocery store, and then promptly stalked and murdered in his apartment.
The sequence’s use of anonymous text messages feels undeniably reminiscent of the Scream franchise’s use of anonymous phone calls. However, that’s not the biggest aspect of Sick’s cold open that makes the biggest impression. Instead, it’s the prologue’s legitimately nerve-wracking hand-to-hand fights. Sick’s director, John Hyams, has experience working in the action field, having directed two installments of the Universal Soldier franchise, and it shows. The thriller is overflowing with foot chases and fights that are shocking not only in their brutality, but also in how well-choreographed, cut, and shot they are.
As is the case with Williamson’s Scream efforts, Sick isn’t afraid to veer into comedic, absurd territory. In its third act, it does exactly that — delivering a Covid-centric answer to its various mysteries that will likely make some viewers uncomfortable. That’s the point. The film is tasteless and goading in a way that used to be fairly common in the mainstream horror world but which feels increasingly hard to come by.
Whether its provocations work for you or not, there’s something satisfying about seeing a contemporary horror film thoroughly commit to its own schtick, and Sick does just that. Its triumphs greatly outweigh its missteps, and it ranks high as one of 2023’s best wide-release horror titles. Even if its use of the Covid-19 pandemic for its setting doesn’t work for you, its nail-biting, hard-hitting set pieces and fights definitely will.
Sick is streaming now on Peacock.