The Sadness arrives on Shudder in May 2022.
21st Century horror has largely moved away from gore in recent years, pivoting back to psychological, internal horror through, Get Out, The Lighthouse, Saint Maud and Censor. Of course, these are all great titles that serve us a stellar commentary on social themes. However, there will always be that craving for the gritty grindhouse movie and the shock of films like The Driller Killer or Cannibal Holocaust. Sometimes, horror fans want to be drenched in blood! We want to be shocked, mouths slightly agape or groaning from the second-hand feeling of the horrific displays on the screen. Fortunately, Rob Jabbaz has our back – and The Sadness fully delivers precisely that.
Jabbaz centres his film around a pandemic in Taiwan, intentionally reflecting our COVID-19 world. But here, Jabbaz isn’t trying to deliver any grandiose or complex socio-political message. No, he is just interested in the blood, gore and shocks a zombie flick can provide. In fact, using the word zombie really doesn’t capture the affliction of The Sadness – it’s closer to Romero’s The Crazies, with unlimited homicidal imagination and a lustful desire for suffering. Those afflicted with the Alvin disease, as it’s called, are downright frightening, with their bulbous, crimson eyes staring through you, their unflinchingly wide smile only making you more unsettled.
What makes Jabbaz’s homicidal maniacs so frightening is that they’re more human than monsters; they love what they are doing and are ever-so-happy to slowly peel your skin off or castrate you with unconventional surgical tools. The Sadness feels like a modern-day video nasty that could cause uproar and debate. I don’t think I’ve seen this level of blood flying onscreen since The Shining‘s elevator scene. The Sadness is a waterfall of gore, an avalanche of viscera, as skin is seared off by oil, knives plunge into arteries and stomachs are ripped apart like presents on Christmas morning.
One could say it’s closer to The Madness than The Sadness. For example, Jabbaz ensures a train carriage scene has every inch of the set coated in crimson by its conclusion. Jabbaz isn’t afraid to get hilariously creative with the violent scenarios he creates, and as a result, some may claim that he goes too far. But, in response, Jabbaz has informed us he could’ve gone much further, and I don’t doubt that for a second.
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However, The Sadness strikes just the right balance between its grindhouse insanity and its compelling story of two lovers attempting to find safety in a world gone mad. While Jabbaz strays away from making any profound socio-political commentary, there does feel like a definitive ‘fuck you’ moment to a prominent Chinese leader, with a slight hint of ‘how did he get away with that?‘ Once you see it, you’ll know what I mean.
Bluntly speaking, The Sadness is one of the craziest films I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s all the better for it. Things begin to ramp up once the plague spreads as Jabbaz rips up the rule book. My favourite performer is Tzu-Chiang Wang’s Businessman, a constant threat to Regina’s Kat as she makes her way through the city; he commands such a hostile, unrelenting presence that he could stand alongside Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees – taking gleeful pleasure in the most brutal, sadistic acts. For example, Wang implements a shocking wound that turns out to be a set-up for an even more grotesque act of torture later in the film, one that I could not believe I was watching.
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The Sadness doesn’t just breathe new life into the zombie genre; it re-animates it. It has such unstable, chaotic energy that it feels reminiscent of 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead; it’s one of those horrors that knows precisely what it’s trying to achieve and fully commits to it. It promises absolute, total bloody chaos and delivers on it and more. There couldn’t have been a better closing film for FrightFest 2021, and I am so glad I got to witness the madness of The Sadness.