Review: COVID-19 gets the horror treatment in “Sick”; “Kids vs. Aliens” is sweetly scruffy


Set during the early days of the pandemic, the taut slasher picture “Sick” uses the fear and paranoia of mid-2020 to clever effect. 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 glib about the virus in general, even as she heads up to her family’s remote cabin to quarantine with her best friend, Miri (Beth Million). Parker soon finds that she can’t fully leave the dangers of the outside world behind. First, she gets a visit from her needy ex-boyfriend DJ (Dylan Sprayberry). Then the whole house is terrorized by a shadowy killer, clad in black.

The slasher threat in “Sick” is a metaphor for COVID-19, and for the way everyone once worried that a fleeting mistake — like a mask slip, or meeting up with a secretly infected person — could be a death sentence. For the most part, “Sick” is just a slickly formulaic mid-budget horror movie, well-crafted by the screenwriters and directed with style and energy by the skilled John Hyams. But the real-world wrinkles aren’t just a cynical way to make the routine more relevant. They give all the bloody murder a meaning.

“Sick.” TV-MA, for violence, coarse language and drug use. 1 hour, 23 minutes. Available on Peacock

Ben Tector, left, Asher Grayson Percival, Phoebe Rex and Dominic Mariche in the movie “Kids vs. Aliens.”
(RLJE Films/Shudder)

‘Kids vs. Aliens’

There are two kinds of aliens in director Jason Eisener’s science-fiction comedy “Kids vs. Aliens.” The movie’s first half is mostly about a nerdy teenage girl named Sam (Phoebe Rex), who gets tired of helping younger brother Gary (Dominic Mariche) and his friends make DIY superhero movies at their sprawling waterfront Nova Scotia home. When handsome bad-boy classmate Billy (Calem MacDonald) takes an interest in her, Sam neglects the children and lets a whole pack of wild teens into the house, to drink and party and trash the place.

That’s when the other aliens show up: rampaging monsters from outer space, who don’t care which humans are supposed to be cool and which are geeks, because their only interest is in using our species’ bodies for spaceship fuel. A frenzied and violent chase ensues — liberally 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 pastiche. Its clumsier and more cliched moments — and there are many — are perhaps meant to be passed off as the kind of stuff Gary and his pals like. But while the script (co-written by Eisener and John Davies) is weak, there is an endearingly scruffy vibe here, goosed by some cool-looking costumes and effects. And there’s a legitimate underdog edge, as Eisener and Davies capture how it feels to be underestimated and overmatched but full of can-do pluck.

“Kids vs. Aliens.” Not rated. 1 hour, 15 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically, Alamo Drafthouse, downtown Los Angeles

‘There’s Something Wrong With the Children’

There’s a strong idea — too briefly explored — at the center of “There’s Something Wrong With the Children,” a supernatural horror film that’s also about the gulf that develops between old friends when some of them become parents. Zach Gilford and Alisha Wainwright play Ben and Margaret, a childless couple who talk a lot about how they love their freedom, though privately they struggle with Ben’s mental health issues. Carlos Santos and Amanda Crew play Thomas and Ellie, who evangelize for parenthood but reluctantly admit that raising two youngsters has left them with too little time to keep their marriage fresh. When their kids — Lucy (Briella Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattle) — disappear down a deep hell-pit near the vacationing couples’ rental home, they mysteriously reappear with new, more mischievous personalities. The subsequent finger-pointing between the adults exposes the cracks in their relationships.

Director Roxanne Benjamin and screenwriters T.J. Cimfel and David White have a good handle on the dynamic between their four leads; and their movie hits its peak in a tense scene where they air their grievances, saying things they can’t take back. But Lucy and Spencer figure into that argument only tangentially. Before they’re possessed by forces from the beyond, the kids often are relegated to the background, brought out only when convenient to the plot. Afterward, they become fairly standard-issue devil-imps, causing damage that only occasionally seems personally targeted toward the grown-ups, in scenes too blandly reminiscent of dozens of other “cabin in the woods” movies. There’s something wrong with the children, all right. The filmmakers can’t figure out what to do with them.

“There’s Something Wrong With the Children.” Not rated. 1 hour, 31 minutes. Available on VOD

‘All Eyes Off Me’

Writer-director Hadas Ben Aroya’s Israeli drama “All Eyes Off Me” is a fine example of a “relay” film, in which a minor character from one section of the movie becomes a major character in the next, and so on. The picture begins with a prologue featuring Danny (Hadar Katz), a free-spirited bisexual at a wild party, looking for Max (Leib Levin), the boy who recently impregnated her. The story then shifts to Max, who has fallen deeply in love with Avishag (Elisheva Weil), who tests his devotion when she asks him to start physically abusing her during sex. The film ends with Avishag crushing on Dror (Yoav Hait), an older and more spiritual man, who is confused about why a beautiful young woman desires him.

Ben Aroya seems more concerned with exploring small moments of awkward human interaction than with making a grand statement. Because of this, there’s an elusiveness to “All Eyes Off Me” that can be a bit frustrating, as Ben Aroya lingers on long, circular conversations — or extended, explicit sex scenes — with no clear goal in mind.

But the film is bracingly frank about the younger generation’s pursuit of sensual pleasure (and pain). And it’s graced by Weil’s superb performance as Avishag, a multilayered character who swings from maudlin sentimentality to the extremes of human desire. One minute she’s weeping while watching a singer in a reality TV competition on her cracked cellphone screen. The next, she’s asking the boyfriend she barely likes to slap and choke her. She’s at once fascinating and frightening.

“All Eyes Off Me.” In Hebrew with subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 28 minutes. Available on VOD


Mixing freaky folklore with slapstick splatter, writer-director Fabián Forte’s Argentine horror film “Legions” 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 village plagued by demons before he decided to move to the city to make a better life for his daughter Helena (Lorena Vega). He tries to keep his devil-fighting practice alive in his new urban world; but that just gets him thrown into an asylum, where he has to rally his fellow inmates to help him reach Helena before the coming blood moon unlocks her latent powers and rouses the forces of evil.

Forte spends a lot of the first hour of “Legions” setting up his premise, leavening the info-dumps by having the hero explain them to his eccentric friends at the institution (who are also staging a play based on his life). The blood-soaked last act then ties everything together, combining comic mayhem with a sweet family reunion, as the heroes face a gantlet of demons. It’d be a reach to say that the movie has anything profound to say about preserving legacies and cultural traditions; but the father-daughter connection does make it easy to root for these humans as they fight off the hell-hordes.

‘Legions.’ In Spanish with subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 28 minutes. Available on VOD

‘Sorry About the Demon’

The haunted-house movie “Sorry About the Demon” addresses a question rarely raised in demonic possession stories: What if you tried to negotiate with the evil spirits? In the opening scene of Emily Hagins’ lighthearted horror-comedy, a family coaxes a basement-dwelling beast named Deomonous out of their daughter by promising a substitute soul. Enter Will (Jon Michael Simpson), a newly dumped dope who needs a place to stay and ends up renting the cursed property for a suspiciously low price. Soon, he’s being tormented by Deomonous … until the demon decides that Will is too big of a loser to possess. “Sorry About the Demon” is too slackly paced and there’s a broad tone to the jokes and performances that skews corny. But the central comic premise is a hoot; and the movie has an unexpectedly philosophical dimension. What will satisfy Deomonous? What about Will? Heck, what do any of us really want?

‘Sorry About the Demon.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 45 minutes. Available on Shudder

Also on VOD

Gabriel LaBelle in “The Fabelmans,” co-written, produced and directed by Steven Spielberg.
(Merie Weismiller Wallace / Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment)

“The Fabelmans” is one of this year’s Oscar front-runners — and not just because nearly every Steven Spielberg movie inevitably racks up a few nominations. No, this film is unusually resonant, using Spielberg’s own childhood fascination with cinema — and the pain of watching his parent’s marriage fail — as the context for a poignant coming-of-age story, about a kid who learns the power of illusions just as his own begin falling away. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically in general release

Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

“The Menu” savagely spoofs foodie culture via the darkly comic story of a burned-out celebrity chef (Ralph Fiennes) who invites a party of snobs to his private island, where he proceeds to feed them high-end cuisine and do them bodily harm. The DVD/Blu-ray edition includes three deleted scenes and a lengthy behind-the-scenes featurette. Fox Searchlight (also available to stream on HBO Max)


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