Brazilian filmmaker Alice Furtado’s Sick, Sick, Sick is a dizzying journey through the twin fires of lust and death, and often blurs the line between the two. It also dissolves boundaries between the real world and the dreamworlds that constantly call its characters to them.
The film tells the story of Silvia (Luiza Kosovski), a sullen teenager who falls in love with a new student, the poetic, brooding Artur (Juan Paiva). Their romance quickly grows intense, but comes to a sudden end when Artur, who has hemophilia, dies in a skate park accident one day.
Following this accident, the film grows unstable and fractured, mirroring Silvia’s state of mind. She becomes withdrawn and ill, coughing blood into the sink, so her parents decide to take her to an island in hopes that the sea air will help her heal.
Instead, the island only draws Silvia further into the rip tide of her own mind’s instability. She discovers a book about voodoo and quickly becomes obsessed with bringing Artur back to life. Using the book’s instructions, she conducts a ritual that involves a sacrifice and a convulsive dance, and from there, blood begins to flow, first slowly and then in torrents.
From Artur’s gory death to the blood sacrifices that Silvia uses to call him back to reality, blood is a perpetual theme in Sick, Sick, Sick, working as a metaphor for the violence and pain tangled in all-consuming love. And like all-consuming love, the film is as disorienting as a hall of mirrors, sometimes dropping in surreal clips without context, other times spending long periods of time fixating on Silvia’s still, ashen face.
Like the jungle that lures its protagonist out of her mind, the film is dark, verdant, and tangled with metaphors and foreshadowing. Silvia’s ritual is shamanic by nature, involving an expulsive dance that evokes performances used by magicians and healers throughout time. There’s also an ongoing exploration of primal instinct and natural selection, expressed by the nature documentaries always playing on a small screen in the island rental home.
By the time the film’s haunting ending rolls around, you realize that you’ve always been at the mercy of the protagonist’s unreliable perspective, and she’s slowly been guiding you deeper into the woods until it becomes impossible to figure out what’s real.
Amplified by its gorgeously psychedelic score and cinematography, Sick Sick Sick is a sometimes fragmented slow burn. Though its first half can grow slow and too abstract in parts, it’s all worth watching for its last half hour alone. The music and filmography work together to create a trance-like exploration of destructiveness—that blisters on the edges of Silvia’s love for Artur, that led him to his death, and that accompanies most of this life’s truly ecstatic experiences.
For filmmaker Alice Furtado, Sick, Sick, Sick was also a protest against the destructiveness of Brazil’s current sociopolitical situation. Currently, economic and political struggles in Brazil are stymying the growth and expression of many young filmmakers, and Furtado has stated that the film could be read as a testament to fighting for creativity in the face of hopelessness. “When I see this young powerful couple overcome the laws of nature for love, it makes me think about the young generations in my country,” she said in an interview with Hollywood Reporter. “And the hope I have that they will, with all their power and energy, shake the structures of this old, white, patriarchic system of privileges that is taking the country down.”
In light of this, Sick, Sick, Sick’s refusal to comply with linear reality also might be read as a love note to filmmakers and creators who are trying to bring their work to life in a world that tells them they can’t. Art, like love, is a primal force, and it will force itself into being one way another, Furtado seems to be saying. When obstructed, creativity may sometimes emerge in distorted and even terrifying forms.
Sick, Sick, Sick is an enthralling dive into the shadowlands of the psyche, and like a particularly impactful dream or nightmare, it will linger a long time after you shut off the screen.