‘Sick’ – How Kevin Williamson Redefines the Final Girl (Again)

Kevin Williamson built his career on peeking behind the curtain and breaking the rules. Scream deconstructed everything we thought we knew about horror films. So many imitators followed that the meta-horror movie sometimes feels like its own subgenre. Williamson understands why rules exist but knows that breaking them isn’t just fun but necessary for the genre’s evolution. Horror’s cause and effect model often penalizes characters, while those who practice general good behavior and listen to the angels on their shoulders often survive to see another sunrise. But for almost 30 years, Williamson’s shown no love for that tradition.

Scream reshaped the Final Girl into something else in 1996 when it threw the slasher rules out of the window. Now with Sick, scribe Kevin Williamson does the same for a new generation of fans while using an actual life-or-death scenario as the backdrop. One where following every single rule is vital to survival: the Covid-19 pandemic.

Needless to say, this article spoils Sick. If you haven’t seen it, come back after watching.

Sick takes place during the height of the pandemic. You remember the sparse grocery store aisles, the cable news addiction, and the days when a lone cough felt as dangerous as a knife to the throat. But everyone in its opening moments follows the rules. They’re correctly spaced in the store, wearing masks, and even taking extra precautions like wiping down everything with Lysol. That’s all the visual info needed for ample context. Within that construct, we know the rest of the do’s and don’t’s, so it’s jarring that the very second the main character Parker shows up, she’s disregarding several rules at once. First, Parker and her best friend Miri decide quarantining together beats doing it solo.

Second on her faux pas list, and possibly the most significant infraction, is a social media video showing Parker at a college party making out with a classmate. No masks. No distancing. Not even a Clorox wipe in sight. Just red solo cups as far as the eyes can see and more concern for doing everything society told us not to do than contacting a deadly virus. Calling Parker an awful person is a stretch, but she is callous. She exhibits flippancy towards Covid restrictions, and, in a twist for these types of flicks, she’s remorseless when her romantic interest professes his love. In yet another surprise, she’s not interested in a relationship. The movie never thoroughly explains why, but it paints a picture of someone enjoying the benefits of the single life. Again, this goes against tradition but in the best way possible because it makes everything that follows unpredictable.

Sidney Prescott and Julie James weren’t perfect, and, in fact, they both committed a couple horror cardinal sins. They both had sex, and one participated in a murder cover-up. But they’re both good friends who care about the people around them. And yes, even the person lying about her and her friends killing a man is ultimately trying to do the right thing because we see it in action. Put another way, Sidney and Julie want the audience’s affection, while Parker couldn’t care less. That’s not inherently wrong, but it goes against another one of horror’s unwritten rules about the Final Girl’s vulnerability. As an audience, we cheer for her escape and hope she stabs, shoots, burns, or dismembers the psycho in a mask. And not because of anything she does explicitly, but because we ultimately see her as someone worth caring about.

Parker makes choices before the danger comes and during its high points that aren’t saintly, but they are human. Part of Williamson’s deconstructive bent is getting us closer to realizing actual human beings on camera, complete with all the messiness and complexity that comes with the territory. Especially at the age when we believe we’re invincible and our youth is eternal. Alana Maxwell reluctantly participates in an awful prank in Terror Train while Parker knowingly and actively engages in unsafe behavior. So, there’s a price for that, right?

That’s where Sick subverts and flexes its satirical muscle. Parker really pays no price for breaking any rule, real or imagined. While clearly paranoid, the killers still have an understandable beef with Parker. It turns out the subject in Parker’s make out video was their son, who died of Covid shortly thereafter. Through their rudimentary contract tracing exercise, and with help from the fact Parker’s generation loves sharing their business with the world at all times, they assumed he contracted it from her. One swab of Parker’s nostrils reveals that she has Covid and is possibly asymptomatic. Does it involve several stretches that might make Reed Richards jealous? Of course. Is murder the proper grieving technique? Definitely not.

Sick Kevin Williamson

But thinking back to 2020, their perspective makes sense. Sick puts us firmly on Parker’s side for most of its runtime but asks us if we’re still there during the third act reveal. She not only took her life into her own hands but possibly infected someone else. And yet, she escapes. While most slashers traditionally say following the rules protects you, Sick renders the rules irrelevant and leaves it all to chance. Parker and Miri didn’t survive because they outsmarted the antagonists. They didn’t see another day because their nobility scale hit a higher peak than the grieving parents. Much like real life, some of us survived the pandemic doing every imaginable thing wrong while some perished doing everything right. Williamson’s sharp humor and playfulness hide what lurks at the center of Sick and most of his horror movies: Randomness remains the scariest thing in this world and knowing life’s rules will not save you.

Parker is a Final Girl for an era where all bets are off, and none of us know what lurks behind that corner we thought we knew so well. She also represents a more fleshed-out woman character rather than an idealized version that doesn’t exist. There’s nothing wrong with comfort food, but every so often, we need a voice breaking boundaries and rebelling against the norm. Williamson gave the Final Girl more agency over her body and her killers, which redefined her in the ’90s. He pushes that agency forward with Sick, a film that creates a compelling heroine who, even after doing almost everything wrong, still deserves to live.

Kevin Williamson Sick peacock

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