Set in the early days of the pandemic, tight slasher film “Sick” cleverly exploits the fear and paranoia of mid-2020. Co-written by Katelyn Crabb and “Scream” mastermind Kevin Williamson, the film stars Gideon Adlon as Parker, a college kid who is lax about masking and generally takes a perfunctory approach to the virus, even as she quarantines in her family’s remote cabin goes with her best friend Miri (Beth Million). Parker soon finds that she cannot fully escape the dangers of the outside world. First she gets a visit from her needy ex-boyfriend DJ (Dylan Sprayberry). Then the whole house is terrorized by a shadowy, black-clad killer.
The slasher threat in “Sick” is a metaphor for COVID-19 and for the way everyone once worried that a cursory mistake — like slipping your mask or meeting someone secretly infected — was a death sentence could be. For the most part, “Sick” is just a slick, formulaic mid-budget horror film well-crafted by the screenwriters and directed with style and energy by the veteran John Hyams. But the real-life wrinkles aren’t just a cynical way to make the routine more relevant. They make sense of all the bloody murder.
“Ill.” TV-MA for violence, harsh language and drug use. 1 hour, 23 minutes. Available on Peacock
“Kids vs. Aliens”
There are two types of aliens in director Jason Eisener’s sci-fi comedy, Kids vs. Aliens. The first half of the film is mainly about a nerdy teenage girl named Sam (Phoebe Rex) who is fed up with helping her younger brother Gary (Dominic Mariche) and friends make DIY superhero movies in their sprawling home on the Turning water in Nova Scotia. When handsome bad-boy classmate Billy (Calem MacDonald) takes an interest in her, Sam neglects the kids and lets a whole pack of wild teenagers in to drink, party and ransack the house.
Then the other aliens show up: rampaging monsters from outer space who don’t care which humans are supposed to be cool and which are supposed to be geeks, because they’re only interested in using the bodies of our species to fuel spaceships. A frantic and violent chase ensues – peppered with profanity – as Sam rediscovers her inner action hero and fights to save the gang.
“Kids vs. Aliens” never rises above the level of Fannish satire. Its more clumsy and cliched moments – and there are many – are perhaps meant to be passed on as the sorts of things that Gary and his friends enjoy. But while the script (co-written by Eisener and John Davies) is weak, there’s an endearingly scruffy vibe here, punctuated by some cool-looking costumes and effects. And there’s a legitimate underdog advantage, as Eisener and Davies capture what it feels like to be underrated and outperformed but full of confidence.
“Kids vs. Aliens.” Unrated. 1 hour 15 minutes. Available on VOD; also play theater, Alamo Drafthouse, Downtown Los Angeles
“Something’s wrong with the kids”
At the heart of There’s Something Wrong With the Children, a supernatural horror film that also centers on the rift that develops between old friends when some of them become parents, is a powerful idea – explored too little. Zach Gilford and Alisha Wainwright play Ben and Margaret, a childless couple who talk a lot about loving their freedom despite struggling privately with Ben’s mental health issues. Carlos Santos and Amanda Crew play Thomas and Ellie, who evangelize for parenthood but begrudgingly admit that raising two children has left them little time to keep their marriage fresh. When their children – Lucy (Briella Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattle) – disappear into a deep pit of hell near the vacation couple’s rental home, they mysteriously reappear with new, more mischievous personalities. The subsequent pointing of fingers between the adults reveals the fractures in their relationships.
Director Roxanne Benjamin and screenwriters TJ Cimfel and David White handle the dynamic between their four leads; and their film culminates in a tense scene in which they vent their grievances and say things they can’t take back. But Lucy and Spencer play only a marginal role in this argument. Before being possessed by otherworldly forces, the children are often relegated to the background and only brought out when convenient for the plot. After that, they become fairly standard fel goblins, wreaking havoc that only occasionally seems aimed at the adults, in scenes that are too mildly reminiscent of dozens of other cabins in the woods. Something’s wrong with the kids, okay. The filmmakers don’t know what to do with it.
“Something’s wrong with the kids.” Not rated. 1 hour, 31 minutes. Available on VOD
‘All eyes from me‘
Writer-director Hadas Ben Aroya’s Israeli drama All Eyes Off Me is a good example of a “season” film, in which a minor character from one section of the film becomes a main character in the next, and so on. The film opens with a prologue starring Danny (Hadar Katz), a free-spirited bisexual who goes to a wild party looking for Max (Leib Levin), the boy who recently got her pregnant. The story then moves to Max, who has fallen deeply in love with Avishag (Elisheva Weil), who tests his devotion when she asks him to physically abuse her during sex. The film ends with Avishag developing a crush on Dror (Yoav Hait), an older and more spiritual man confused as to why a beautiful young woman desires him.
Ben Aroya seems more interested in exploring small moments of awkward human interactions than making a big statement. Because of this, “All Eyes Off Me” is elusive, which can be a bit frustrating as Ben Aroya dwells on long, circular conversations — or extended, explicit sex scenes — without a clear goal in mind.
But the film is refreshingly frank about the younger generation’s pursuit of sensual pleasure (and pain). And it’s graced by Weil’s superb performance as Avishag, a multi-layered character who swings from maudlin sentimentality to the extremes of human desire. One minute she’s crying while watching a singer in a reality TV competition on her broken phone screen. Next, she asks the boyfriend, whom she hardly likes, to hit and choke her. She is fascinating and frightening at the same time.
“All eyes off me.” In Hebrew with subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 28 minutes. Available on VOD
Mixing freaky folklore with slapstick slapstick, Argentinian horror film Legions from writer-director Fabián Forte tells a story that spans generations before landing in a surprisingly emotional place. Germán De Silva plays Antonio, who served as a shaman in a remote, demon-ridden village before deciding to move to the city to give his daughter Helena (Lorena Vega) a better life. He’s trying to keep his devil fighting practice alive in his new urban world; but that only gets him thrown into an asylum where he must rally his fellow inmates to help him reach Helena before the coming blood moon unleashes her latent powers and awakens the forces of evil.
Forte spends much of Legion’s first hour building his premise and souring the info dumps with the hero explaining them to his eccentric friends at the institution (who are also staging a play based on his life). The blood-soaked final act then ties everything together, combining comical mayhem with a sweet family reunion as the heroes face a handrail of demons. It would be a stretch to say that the film has something profound to say about preserving legacies and cultural traditions; but the father-daughter bond makes it easy for these humans to root for them as they battle the hordes of hell.
“Legions.” In Spanish with subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 28 minutes. Available on VOD
“Sorry about the demon”
The haunted house film Sorry About the Demon addresses a question seldom asked in demonic possession stories: What if you tried to negotiate with the evil spirits? In the opening scene of Emily Hagin’s light-hearted horror comedy, a family lures a basement-dwelling beast named Deomonous from their daughter by promising her a replacement soul. That’s where Will (Jon Michael Simpson) comes in, a newly laid-off git in need of a place to stay and who’s renting the cursed mansion at a suspiciously low price. He’s soon tormented by Deomonous… until the demon decides Will is too big a loser to possess. “Sorry About the Demon” is too sluggish and the jokes and performances have a broad tone that turns cheesy. But the central comic premise is a hoot; and the film has an unexpectedly philosophical dimension. What will satisfy Deomonous? What about Will? Heck, what does each of us really want?
‘Sorry about the demon.’ Not rated. 1 hour 45 minutes. Available from Shudder
Also on VOD
“The Fable Men” is one of this year’s Oscar frontrunners – and not just because almost every Steven Spielberg film inevitably rakes in a few nominations. No, this film is unusually resonant, using Spielberg’s own childhood fascination with cinema – and the pain of seeing his parents’ marriage fail – as context for a poignant coming-of-age story about a child wielding the power of illusion likewise learns his own begin to fall off. Available on VOD; also plays theater in general publication
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray
“The menu” brutally parodies foodie culture via the darkly funny story of a burnt-out celebrity chef (Ralph Fiennes) who invites a group of snobs to his private island, where he feeds them high-end cuisine and physically harms them. The DVD/Blu-ray edition includes three deleted scenes and a long behind-the-scenes look. Fox Searchlight (also available to stream on HBO Max)