Creator: Levi Crotinger
Age rating: 17 and older
As the world around him is ripped apart by disease, James, a young man puts his last bit of hope into one plan: reuniting his family.
Project collaboration: Closed
Synopsis: Levi Crotinger’s Sickness pulses with suspense from the opening scene, which sees 19 year old JAMES EDWARDS surrounded by a world of sirens, smoke and fleeing families, while military helicopters drone past overhead.

The fast-paced action follows James and his best friend SAM as they try to outrun the deadly sickness, which has gripped America, in a bid to reach James’ mother (MRS EDWARDS) and sister (EMILY, known as LILLY) in James’ hometown of Bloomington. James and Sam plan to stay in Bloomington if there is no evidence of the sickness there, although James also harbours a desire to continue on to California, to find his absent father.

The suspense builds as the two teenagers leave for Bloomington, with James taking a bullet wound in the shoulder as he rams a military roadblock. James and Sam’s different personalities quickly become apparent, alongside dark hints as to James’ former addiction to painkillers, with Sam watching anxiously as his friend dry-swallows tablets to cope with the pain of his shoulder wound.

Sam, the quieter of the two, is obsessed with avoiding the sickness through use of face masks and disposable gloves. James, clearly the leader of the two, is dismissive of his friend’s attempts at protection, believing them useless against such a pervasive and fast-spreading illness.

Their first night on the road provides the audience with insights into each of the protagonists. They camp out at an abandoned weigh station and Sam is haunted by memories of happy times spent with his brother (since lost to the sickness). James’ character, as revealed by his dream at the weigh station, is altogether darker. In the dream, his sister Lilly accuses him of having failed his family by being gone too long and not being there when they needed him most.

Upon waking in the morning, the first hints of James’ black temper are revealed when he discovers Sam has left on the overhead light inside the car and drained the battery. The boys set off on foot and by evening – and with the help of a couple more painkillers – James has calmed down.

In an eerie, seemingly abandoned farmhouse, the boys steal food (Sam) and painkillers (James) and are about to depart when the sound of racking sobs rips through the stillness. They find the farmer burying his daughter in a shallow grave in the garden. During one of his darkest moments on the journey, James has a vision of his sister Lilly being buried, then a vision of the girl in the grave opening her eyes.

James and the farmer fight, with James calling desperately to Sam for help as the farmer begins to throttle him. Sam, desperate to avoid the sickness, doesn’t help until he has donned gloves and a facemask. He frees James by killing the farmer with a blow to the head. Ignoring the emotional impact that Sam’s actions may have caused him, James is furious that his friend did not help him sooner. The boys end the day camping in sullen silence.

The next day they arrive at Bloomington to find that the whole town has been fenced off. They break in and have a heart-warming reunion with Mrs Edwards, under the watchful eye of her neighbour.

Bloomington is a glaring contrast to the outside world. Children play on lawns, people are watering their gardens and everything is bright and cheerful, but James still feels restless, as though pushed onward by misgivings he cannot explain. He tries to persuade his family to flee and find his father in California. Painful cracks in the family history have clearly been papered over. The tension mounts as Mrs Edwards refuses to leave.

James and Sam come to the attention of the authorities the next day when Mrs Edwards’ neighbour points them out to OFFICER BARD, who is in charge of selecting five citizens per day to be rehomed in a new, sickness-free community where society is being rebuilt. Because of James and Sam, the whole family has to be tested for the sickness and their home becomes a temporary quarantine zone. James reacts to the imposition of authority by packing his bags.

During James and Sam’s time in Bloomington it becomes apparent that both James and Lilly are sick. The tension with the authorities builds when James is seen breaking into a pharmacy to steal ammonia to try and create a sickness home testing kit. During his flight from the pharmacy, James discovers the real story behind the town – those selected to be ‘rehomed’ are actually being killed and burned as they have the sickness.

While James is at the pharmacy, Mrs Edwards reveals his true nature to Sam when she confesses that the real reason James was sent away to school was because he had hurt Lilly badly. It was only when James met Sam at school that he began to turn his life around.

James and the military both race to Mrs Edwards’ house, where the final showdown takes place. The cracks in James’ family deepen to crevasses when Mrs Edwards and Lilly refuse to flee. As the suspense mounts and the military close in, James has the heart-breaking realisation that he must leave his family behind if he and Sam are to escape.

Officer Bard storms into the house just as the boys leave. He punches Mrs Edwards and knocks her to the ground and tried to take Lilly. The womenfolk buy time for James and Sam at the cost of their lives – Lilly intentionally coughs blood into Officer Bard’s face, while Mrs Edward attacks another officer. As James and Sam drive off, they see Mrs Edwards gunned down in the street behind them.

James and Sam escape Bloomington but fight about where they are headed. With emotions running high, James finally agrees to drop Sam off on the way to Oklahoma City before he carries on alone to California. Yet after James stirs up a confrontation with locals at a gas station he changes his plan and refuses to let Sam out of the car, beating his friend’s head violently against the window.

When James eventually stops to relieve himself, Sam tries to hotwire the car. James, now sick enough to be vomiting blood, catches Sam and finally reveals the full extent of his temper. The boys fight and James intentionally smears his infected blood into Sam’s face before smashing his skull with a rock, killing him instantly. A coughing bout causes James to collapse next to his friend, where he remains as the life fades out of him.

The two friends finally lay dead side by side, leaves fluttering down in the sunshine from the trees above them.

Woven through with James’ dark and disturbing past and his struggles to reconcile his view of himself with that of his family, Sickness takes the audience on a suspense-filled journey, holding them spellbound from its chaotic opening scene to its bloody conclusion.

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