“In the end, Sick is a mixed bag of creative potential and questionable plot lines. If you like indie zombie movies, this one’s different enough from the rest that it might merit viewing“
by C. Rachel Katz
Cards on the table: I’m over zombies. Like, way over. For quite some time now, I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen how I’m done with zombie movies. Yes, zombies enjoyed a renaissance beginning circa 2004 with the remake of Dawn of the Dead, but now, a good decade later, I believe zombies are overdue to to crawl back into the grave.
Okay, not a great way to start a review for a zombie movie. But the honest truth is how many times can we tell the same story? Countless movies pit humans against zombies in a desperate and largely hopeless fight for survival. Some are funny, some are not. Some are thinly veiled social commentary, others are scathing indictments of contemporary society. And all are rehashed and remodelled countless times, the same themes and plots dressed up in different clothes but all telling different versions of the same story.
The zombie movies that I enjoy (they do exist) don’t necessarily bring anything new to the table; for the large part, they just find entertaining ways to riff on or develop staid zombie tropes. Two recent additions to my short list of approved-of zombie features, Dead Snow 2 and Wyrmwood, had fun with the genre inventing their own origins, mythologies, and biologies.
So what could a low-budget, serious Canadian zombie film have to offer to a jaded, snobbish critic like myself? The short answer is, not much. A longer answer includes some vague spoilers, so be warned.
Sick: Survive the Night is a confused and depressing film. Confused because it suffers some story and structural problems. Depressing because the movie is a total downer. Normally, I don’t like depressing horror movies and zombie movies lend themselves too easily to upsetting or depressing scenarios, but Sick finds a way to be pragmatic about its wholly depressing tone. That’s not to say I particularly liked the movie, but I appreciated what it was trying to do.
As I said, the movie’s got its problems, most of which stem from how the story is told. The film opens with Leigh leaving home and then jumps forward in time—an unknown number of months or years has elapsed between the “prologue” and the story proper. Eventually, the blanks are filled in, but the viewer spends too long trying to figure out relationships instead of attuning to what’s happening on screen. Also, the film doesn’t know how to introduce its characters.
First we meet Dr. Leigh Rozetta, our main character. She’s taken to a military facility where she’s pressed into finding a cure for zombieism. Fine. Then we meet a handful of other survivors and military personnel but the leads are seemingly picked at random from the group and the story settles for (is saddled with?) a couple of dudes who trade personalities depending on the emotional/dramatic demands of the scene, and a chick who’s got little to do except incite some mild homophobia in tertiary characters.
The story, what little there is, is centered on Leigh and her desire to go home. And so she does. The bulk of the movie is held over for Leigh’s sojourn to her parents’ house, the people she meets along the way, and the things that happen once she gets there. The whole finding-a-cure-for-zombies plot line is abandoned in favour of a pointless trip to the old homestead where everything comes to a grinding halt. Seriously, what was the point of all that world-building in the first twenty minutes if you’re just going to walk away from it?
Worse yet, Sick had the potential to be something more. Typically, zombie movies are about survival in the dangerous wasteland of the post-apocalypse. Sick took a different tack and focused partly on a search for a cure and partly on Leigh’s journey home. Problem is, the discovery and experimentation process—what little of it we’re privy to—seems far more interesting that what’s going on in the world outside the secure medical/military facility. Leigh’s personal life and motivations shouldn’t take precedence over her potentially world-saving work.
But, burying the compelling search for a cure under layers of personal and inter-personal drama allows for a surprising and depressing ending. Which is good, I guess?
In the end, Sick is a mixed bag of creative potential and questionable plot lines. If you like indie zombie movies, this one’s different enough from the rest that it might merit viewing. If you prefer more conventional fare, you’ll likely be dissatisfied with what Sick has to offer.