John Hyams’ Sick continues the trend of films set during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this one is specifically set during the early days of the lockdown, in which the two protagonists, Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Beth Million), isolate themselves in Parker’s lake house during the lockdown. Making a movie like this requires capturing a sense of isolation, especially with how the sets are chosen and designed, as described by production designer Jenny Möller:
“We found an inherently isolated location. Within that house, we were very intentional about how we decorated it. If you notice, there are few family photos or personal items in the house. That was intentional because it didn’t look like a place that a happy family had spent a lot of time in. We wanted to highlight Parker’s isolation, not just the COVID isolation, but within her own family. Her emotional isolation, if you will. I also wanted the space to be comfortable, but I didn’t want it to be cozy.
We went over the top for the grocery store because I wanted to convey the sense of fear we all had. Of course, I didn’t go into any grocery stores that looked that post-apocalyptic when I was shopping for groceries [laughs]. But it felt that way. The first time you go to a grocery store, or any public place after stay-at-home orders were put in place, there is nothing there. There’s a sense of anxiety when you don’t know what’s coming. We were looking at it from the other end. We knew that we would get through it, which would be okay. However, at that time, we had no idea. All of us have seen enough post-apocalyptic movies to know that feeling. I watched World War Z right before and that great grocery store scene, and that did act in some way as an inspiration for the grocery store scene that opens Sick.”
Möller explained that director John Hyams gave her “a lot of room regarding how we decorated the set and how we needed the house to do certain things. The house was a huge find. It worked well for what he needed to do, even though it wasn’t scripted as open and modern as it was presented in the film. He gave me the space to do what we wanted to do. We talked about how we wanted it to look and feel. He would then work with me on finding the pieces. But he gave me a lot of room, and a lot of risks, and respect in my department in terms of what we’re doing. After the first time he walked on the set, he was like, “Okay, go do your thing. I trust you. You’re going to give me great-looking sets.” He does not micromanage at all. From that point on, we were locked in. He’s the kind of person that puts the right people in the right place and lets them do their job.”
One of the biggest challenges in crafting the main set was to build an attic because “the house doesn’t have an attic. We had to find another space with a staircase to make it work. We would then build the trapdoor. We built out that room and changed the windows, so when she jumped out on the roof, we couldn’t use the roof at the main house because it’s very thin. Any real pressure on it would damage it. It’s also something that we couldn’t replace easily. We found another structure that we could do that with. We built a roof extension to match the house so the girls could safely get in and out.
The lake level was relatively low. We couldn’t access it from the actual property. We had to build the dock at a different site. I wouldn’t say there was anything overtly challenging because we could meet all those challenges. Everybody knew how to do their jobs and do them well. And it was a great collaboration. In that aspect, it was easy to conceptualize and get where we need to go.”
For Möller, the most important element in designing a set for a horror film is to “give the audience an environment to get in and move around. This space is very open, and I wanted to create smaller environments. We’ve decided as a group to create a sort of more modern space. We wanted this to feel modern and new, and luxurious. The character has to feel as impressed as the audience. We need to see this privilege that Parker has. That was intentional. You don’t know if you like her that much in the beginning. All of that was manufactured to make you feel that way.
But she becomes a much more sympathetic and likable character to the point that you are rooting for them to make it out alive. And when you’re designing a film, it’s our job to help drive the story. In this particular film, we’re driving that subconscious story. I am trying to help the audience get to a point of understanding who the characters are. I’ve done a couple of other horror films that were much dirtier and grittier. It’s a very different kind of storytelling, but it’s all there. It’s lots of fun. I did a film called Southbound. There were five different sets in there. When we were in a hospital setting, we did some gross stuff there. It was just incredible and lots of fun. Sick was a very different story than what you’re used to seeing in horror films. There was lots of damaged emotion in this house, as opposed to damaged bodies, which made it stand out above the rest.”
Sick is now available to stream on Peacock.
[Some quotes were edited for length and clarity]
Well done Jenny! You’re touch helped to sell the look and feel of the director’s vision!