As horror fans, we often turn to the genre, whether we realize it or not, to help process some of our hardest feelings. We use these films to safely imagine a worst case scenario and organize our emotions around the most extreme possibilities from the comfort of a darkened theater or the embrace of our own couch. The Sadness is one of those films that manages to step right into our current real-world trauma and ask “yeah, but what if it was even worse?”.
The premise of The Sadness is simple: a young couple, Jim (Berant Zhu) and Kat (Regina Lei) trying to reunite amid a city ravaged by a plague that turns its victims into deranged, bloodthirsty sadists. You will see this film described as a zombie movie in a few places, and if that gets you through the door that’s great. But ultimately, that’s not what is going on here. In reality, the story is much closer to 2017 Joe Lynch outbreak feature, Mayhem. In both films the virus unleashes the basest impulses of the infected, assuming that deep down we’re all seething with murderous rage and the animal urge to fuck everything that moves…or doesn’t move in the case of The Sadness. The difference is that Mayhem lets the audience have a lot of fun with this concept whereas The Sadness is incredibly bleak and unrelentingly vicious for nearly its entire run time.
This is the first feature film for writer/director Rob Jabbaz and, as a career start, it’s phenomenal. Although the script doesn’t offer a lot in the way of character development, we do get just enough information about Jim and Kat to be able to root for their survival. I imagine Jabbaz didn’t have to reach far to pull together the story of an unchecked virus that went ignored by the government for long enough to mutate into something worse than anything doctors could have imagined. While timely, the setup is here just to get us to the carnage and brutality–and this is where ‘The Sadness’ excels.
It is triumphantly gory!
The practical effects rarely hold back, and the budget for blood and viscera surely must have truly been ample. Outside of a couple of moments where the full scope of the viciousness of the infected is, blessedly, left to our imagination, we see every kind of horror a twisted and sadistic human mind can think up. It also feels important to note that Jabbaz is a Canadian living in Taiwan where this film was made. And although he speaks Chinese, it is not his native language which makes the end result of his directorial debut even more impressive.
While I would say that I liked The Sadness, it is not a film I intend to watch more than once. If you have any triggers you need warnings for, rest assured that they are here (with the exception of animal harm, I can happily report the only animals we see are pet fish, and they survive their limited screen time unscathed). The level of brutality in this film makes it the sort of thing you can only recommend to your most seasoned horror fan friends. It’s one of those moves that will be declared as a badge of bravery when someone asks if you’ve seen it. Although it won’t be for everyone, if it sounds like it’s for you, even if you are just a little curious, I encourage you to challenge yourself to check this one out.