During the coldest Scottish winter in years, a woman, who lives in her car on hospital grounds, ignores the growing concerns of others in David Hayman Jr’s Car Sick.
The NHS recently celebrated its 75th birthday but is currently experiencing some of the most severe pressures in its entire history. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing problems, such as underfunding, staffing shortages, an aging population, and rising demand for healthcare and as a result, patients are facing longer waiting times for treatment, and some services are being completely rationed. At the moment the maximum waiting time for non-urgent, consultant-led treatments is around 18 weeks and while not exactly an allegory about the state of the NHS it is impossible to ignore the parallels between Car Sick and this vital part of the UK’s social fabric.
Hannah, played by Jamie Marie Leary, is ill, or at least she thinks she’s ill, however, she has not been able to get the answers she wants from the doctors or nurses she has been able to see. In order to make her point, Hannah decides to live in her car at the hospital car park and plans to stay put until she is better. As revolutions from your bed go it’s not exactly John Lennon and Yoko Ono, but Hannah feels she has no option. We are never told what illness Hannah thinks she might have or if it is all in her mind, all we can see from the film is that Hannah is certainly not happy, and not even her family or friends can convince her to come home. The film spends some time showing us how Hannah lives in this makeshift bedsit, there are close-ups of her sleeping in the back seat, cleaning her teeth using a toothbrush, coffee cup, toilet roll holder, and marking down how many days she has been living here.
Considering Car Sick is set in just one location it is a visually arresting film, David Hayman Jr directs with a style and panache that manages to be both cold and warm. The cinematography by Niall Donaldson uses techniques to create a sense of grim realism contrasted with friendly support. The film is shot using low-key lighting, which creates some darkness and shadows, this in turn increases the sense of claustrophobia and isolation that Hannah feels at times. When she adds Christmas lights to her interior and people come to visit her, we see much more vibrancy and brightness. Also, a factor is Kieran Sherry’s editing which comes across as tight and quick which helps to create tension and urgency. The screenplay by Marcus McPeake stays safe as opposed to making any major dramatic or political points, and although I found the plot to be somewhat unbelievable it does manage to deal with some larger themes like guilt and the nature of life and death.
Car Sick is a potentially powerful film that just doesn’t quite hit the heights it needs to in order to become a truly thought-provoking piece of work. However, thanks to a strong central performance and a group of filmmakers who know exactly what they are doing, we get a well-made 15-minute dramatic short film that is an enjoyable experience and at least manages to make you think a bit.