When it comes to the horror genre, one thing can be said for certain; zombies will never go out of style. With The Walking Dead’s ever-growing success, the undead’s audience has expanded even further into mainstream appeal. The series’ focus on the human element of an apocalypse has much to do with that. The Walking Dead’s compelling drama only heightens the horror. Co-Writer/Director Ryan M. Andrews’ (Black Eve) Sick follows that direction. It’s as much about the drama as it is about the fright factor. The film takes place two years after the outbreak in which a group of survivors attempt to live on in an unpredictable, dangerous landscape growing shorter and shorter on options.
By the plot description, it sounds like just about every other zombie flick you’ve come across of. Andrews admirably instils elements into Sick in order to make the film standout from the lot. Sadly the execution leaves much to be desired. The story construction is inept at best. The film meanders from one scene to another, devoid of any intention. Basic plot progression doesn’t apply here. The movie consistently feels disjointed. When Sick reaches its somewhat logical conclusion dramatically, the film continues on with its third act (if you want to call it that) without any clue of its destination. I guess the filmmakers were trying to represent the unpredictability of life in a hostile, zombie-packed environment but some semblance of basic narrative has to apply. Now I would forgo this if this character-driven piece had any actual character development. Their motivation and arc unexpectedly and unconvincingly changes on a whim. There’s no one here to get attached to for any reason which is a huge problem with any film. For a drama, Sick rings consistently dull which isn’t helped by the many awkward dialogue exchanges. For the most part, the ensemble cast doesn’t help matters all that much.
As for the zombies, they look and move in the manner George A. Romero established in his Dead franchise. On occasion, they’ll decide to run 28 Days Later style. As for their choice of food, they’re brain-eaters which I haven’t seen since the Return of the Living Dead films. Andrews spends a good chunk of time explaining the science behind this by way of a subplot starring B-movie scream queen Debbie Rochon (Tromeo & Juliet). This thread runs throughout the movie, seemingly building up to some “big” revelation. Unfortunately it goes nowhere of interest despite Rochon’s best efforts. The pay-off at the end is amped up as something more substantial than it actually is.
Sick was shot on the Red One M-X and it looks just fine for an indie production. The aim is for gritty and gritty it is. My issue is with many of the flat and often awkward shot compositions that plague this film. The action set-pieces are clunky at best plus all attempts at tension-building and jump-scares are ineffective. A lot is due to clumsy editing that showcases some noticeably choppy cuts. The pace is plodding and uneven. Even at a slim running time, Sick is quite the chore to endure.
In a world oversaturated by zombie flicks, you need to do a great deal to justify your movie’s existence. As honest the attempt by Andrews may be, Sick just doesn’t. There’s not even any memorable gore to distract you from the film’s lack of direction. It pains me to knock Canadian indie genre fare. It’s always great to see local talent succeeding in making a homegrown horror movie. In the end, regardless of the budget size, I have to ask myself; was I engaged with what was happening onscreen on some level? A good story and/or characters to spark a viewer’s interest are the foundations of any good movie. Andrews definitely has a distinct voice – it just doesn’t amount to much on this particular outing. Unfortunately Sick is only enjoyable in an earnest, Ed Wood sort of way. I found myself often laughing unintentionally…not the kind of quality you look for from a zombie drama.
Sick will premiere at the first annual Fright Nights: The Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival in Toronto, Canada on November 30th. For more info, check out the website.