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'SICK' writer explains how the film's big COVID twist is meant to be a pandemic-era 'release valve'

"Watch this movie and let it work as a release valve and make you breathe a little fuller."

By Josh Weiss
SICK (2023)

Ever since the novel respiratory virus known as COVID-19 plunged human society into chaos nearly three years ago, Hollywood has attempted to reflect the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic era with projects like Songbird, Host, and Safer at Home.

Most of these horror films have bombed, barely making a dent in the cultural discourse (most likely owing to the fact that audiences aren't quite ready to relive something they experienced in their own lives not too long ago). But with the dust beginning to settle ever so slightly — or at least the beginning acceptance of a new normal — moviegoers may finally be ready to dip their toes into the coronavirus-themed horror sub-genre.

Screenwriter Kevin Williamson did seriously wonder if it was too soon to use the global health crisis as a narrative backdrop while writing his news slasher project — SICK (now streaming on Peacock) — alongside his former assistant, Katelyn Crabb. "There was a whole question of, ‘Is it too soon or is it too late?’" he tells SYFY WIRE over the phone. "I talked about that with some genre filmmaker and they were like, ‘But it's the horror genre, where else can you tell these stories?’ You work in the genre where these stories should be allowed."

***WARNING! The following contains major spoilers for the film!***

Set in April 2020 during the early days of blind confusion and panic we now associate with the dark days that were the first spring of the oandemic, SICK centers around a pair of college friends — Parker (Blockers' Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Piss Party's Bethlehem Million) — who are stalked by a mysterious masked killer while trying to quarantine at a remote lake house.

The writer of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer points to Jordan Peele's "genius screenplay" for Get Out as an effective way for horror to reflect the hard-hitting issues plaguing our civilization — whether it's racial divides or a highly infectious virus.

"I just said, ‘Yeah, let's do it. Let's go for it.' And now it plays as a period piece because it's [set in] April 2020 and it does sort of take you back. I know that when we screened it for people I wasn't aware of everyone's reaction to the COVID moment, and they were laughing at them. They were with them and they appreciated them. Everyone remembers when someone behind you coughs and how you’d turn and walk away from them. We didn’t realize how all those little moments were going to play and they did."

While the title holds several meanings in this context, Williamson, who also produced the feature, explains that the most significant definition is the "sick and twisted" nature of the story. "We had a five-page list of names. Every ridiculous name that you can come up with, we had them," the writer admits, sharing that "Lockdown" and "Pandemic" were among the alternate choices. In the end, it was Bryan Fuller (creator of television classics like Pushing Daisies and Hannibal) who came up with the official name.

"I asked, ‘What should I name the movie?’ And he went, ‘SICK.’ I went, ‘What?!’ He goes, ‘SICK.’ He didn’t even think twice ... I took that back to the studio and they went, ‘No, we can’t name the movie SICK,'" Williamson remembers. "And then I told [director] John Hyams and John goes, ‘I like that title.’ And so, we finally got our way because none of the other titles worked as well. Bryan Fuller named the movie, I have to give credit to him."

SICK (2023)

Running just over an hour long, the movie never overstays its welcome, keeping the tension high as the two main characters become battered, bruised, soaked, and drugged while attempting to flee and outsmart their assailant, who actually turns out to be an entire family of murderers who blame Parker for the COVID-related death of their son.

It's a nifty twist that perfectly plays on the frustrations many of us had while seeing friends and family acting a little too blasé about the risks of the disease. Relationships were absolutely decimated by a schism over the best way to follow (or even believe in) scientists urging the public to adopt face masks, social distancing, and contact tracing as everyday additions to this new existence.

"It's meant to globally reflect the COVID rage that lives in all of us, the anxiety of these last couple of years," Williamson says of the big reveal. "I think as a human race, we've been dragged through the mud a little bit and I'm hoping this is a way that we can just sort of have a release valve and take some of the tension out of us for a second. Turn our brains off, just turn our anxiety off for a second, or just let it release. Watch this movie and let it work as a release valve and make you breathe a little fuller."

He continues: "We had to do something with this anxiety, and this was the result of it. I hope it works in a therapeutic way for other people, too. I think it's a fun, scary rollercoaster ride. Those two actresses are amazing. They're so committed, they're so smart and talented ... John Hyams directed the hell out of it and I'm so happy with it."

In addition to letting off some pent-up anger, Williamson also wanted the film to carry a subtle optimistic commentary about how humans are always better off working together. "These girls fight back; they’re very strong and they don't make dumb decisions," he concludes. "They want to live, they want to survive, which is another subtext to the whole thing, which is if we rely on each other, we will get through this. [That’s] the bigger message of COVID as a community."

SICK is now available to stream on Peacock.