The makers of “Sick” waste no time messing with their audience. First we follow Tyler (Joel Courtney) through the bare shelves of a Walmart-style big box store. A familiar but familiar confrontation ensues: someone sees Tyler, texts him from an unknown number, and photographs him just out of sight. Tyler’s stalker wears a balaclava. He follows Tyler back to his apartment and tries to send him off with a large hunting knife.
Also, the pace of this opening scene has an unexpectedly varied rhythm, especially given its relaxed start. Before Tyler is attacked, we’re given plenty of time to soak up the dimmer-switch vibe of his apartment, which is also jarring after the simultaneously vast and hyper-compartmentalized sterility of the aforementioned Walmart clone.
The violence in this table-setting scene is also revolting, not just for its splattering brutality, but for director Hyams’ relentless 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 setup, especially since Tyler disappears right after.
But Tyler isn’t really out of the picture, even if he’s immediately supplanted by the real star of “Sick.” parks (Gideon Adlon), a benignly self-absorbed college student, retreats to a remote lake house with his loyal bestie Miri (Beth Million). Miri sighs and shrugs at Parker, while Adlon’s gruff nature eschews anything but the pursuit of simple pleasures: a tan during the day, a remote-controlled fire at night, and a joint with some finger food before bed. Representatives of the outside world sometimes interrupt Parker’s vacation, but they’re nothing she can’t handle. Like her clueless partner, DJ (Dylan Sprayberry), who follows Parker to the cabin without signing out. Or the one sending Parker creepy text messages from a hidden number. Parker reminds DJ that they are in an open relationship because he is 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 exciting: it’s a high-toned body-count picture with instantly understood rules, as you might guess from the cryptic post-“Scream” text messages — ” Wanna party?” — which 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 is just as relentless as the last. Blood flies, limbs tumble, and a frantic chase ensues. There are a few expected plot twists along the way, but if you think too much about the integrity of WiFi and car tires, you’re probably not the right audience for this type of movie.