The Sick House (2008)
Directed by: Curtis Radclyffe
Starring: Gina Philips, Alex Hassell, Kellie Shirley, Andrew Knott, Jack Bailey, John Lebar, Romla Walker, Tom Wontner
1/2 (out of 4)
I don’t think it’s unfair of me to expect movies to make sense in some way, or have at least one likable character, or be visually pleasing, or operate with some small measure of coherence. The Sick House doesn’t do any of these things; it’s an ugly-looking, annoying exercise in nonsense, setting the stage in a haunted hospital but refusing to show said hospital, offering up characters with no evidence of rational thought running around in the dark, and presenting it all with strobe-lit, shaky-cam editing that gives no indication as to where anybody is at any given moment, where exactly they are running to, or what exactly they are running from. Other than supplying an interesting background story with a conceptually creepy villain, and delivering a few grotesque shots of a girl giving birth to worms, it has nothing to offer besides dark, grainy, handheld bullshit, probably with the idea that people will watch anything as long as lights are flashing, objects are vaguely in motion, or somebody is screaming.
Back in the great bubonic plague days of London (1665), there were these “plague doctors” who cared for children at a local hospital. Some of them, though, were evil dudes who called themselves the Cult of the Black Priest, giving themselves surnames based on variations of “Cutter.” In the present day, visiting American archaeologist Anna (Gina Philips) is working on the now abandoned hospital when her superior tells her to pack up and get out. Apparently they found traces of Yersinia pestis (yeah, that’s not good) so now the entire place is set to be demolished. It’s too bad, because Anna just came across some kind of sealed room and she just has to get in there. On the final night before the hospital is scheduled to be pulled down, she sneaks in and starts snooping around, not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, you see. I don’t know about you, but I think any sane person wouldn’t step anywhere on the same block as an unsafe building infected with plague. Elsewhere, some joyriding, drug-taking idiots – including a very pregnant “Joolz” (Kellie Shirley) crash their stolen car and take refuge inside the hospital. I believe that in British vernacular they are called “chavs.” Just before, they are seen spoofing scenes from The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense, two movies that you should be watching instead of The Sick House. What happens from here on is unintelligible and practically unwatchable.
Seriously, I don’t know what else to say about The Sickhouse. The film is shot using a variety of styles – handheld shots, grainy shots, closeups, fluorescent lighting, fast edits. Most of it seems to be computer-generated shaky-cam (yes, you can simulate that with a computer, and people actually do it intentionally, the dopes). It’s also almost completely dark; from what I could make out in between the quick flashes, there are ghost children hanging around and an occasional attack by a plague doctor wearing a bird mask. From watching this film and others like it, one would gather that the modern trend of movies is to attach the camera to a weed whacker for every scene – even ones where people are just talking – to give the illusion that something interesting is going on. Not that there’s much talking here, either. Most of the dialogue just consists of people screaming “fuck” at one another, and there’s a subplot surrounding the mystery of who the real father of Joolz’s baby is (and why is a girl, ready give birth at any moment, going on a stolen car joyride? Never mind.) There’s no sincere effort on any character’s part to escape this dangerous place – sure, they occasionally give it lip service, but get constantly distracted by something or another, and then they’re just aimlessly running around again. By the way, would we not expect a person who spends months working inside a building to at least know the layout pretty well? Sure, we would expect it, but this film doesn’t.
If you manage to put up with this meandering, headache-inducing movie to the end, your reward is some inane “twist” ending where the movie doubles back on itself. I couldn’t quite figure it all out, mostly due to the editing, but honestly, by then I didn’t care. It’s too bad that incoherent stuff like this keeps getting churned out for consumers of direct-to-video and DVD bargain bins. I have seen worse movies than The Sick House, but for a film squandering a premise with so much potential, rarely have I been so disappointed and irritated. The interesting historical backstory and the presence of Gina Phillips notwithstanding (and UK actor Alex Hassell, who I think has potential), this movie has almost nothing redeemable. Throw yourself into a clothes dryer for 90 minutes and you’ll get similar results.
- Bill Gordon