The Sadness offers a dark take on human nature

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | May 12, 2022

The Sadness
VOD and Shudder
Opens May 12
3 out of 5

Horror, as a genre, really shivers when the narrative is beyond reproach and able to drag you in (Midsommar and Get Out come to mind). Schlocky horror movies, on the other hand, risk desensitizing fans and leading them into the land of the tasteless and debauched. There’s no other excuse to watch the likes of The Human Centipede or Cannibal Holocaust. No nutritional value to speak of.                                                  

I suspect this was what The Sadness was aiming for. Now, a zombie movie so gruesome it manages to push the envelope just as the subgenre shows signs of oversaturation is nothing to sneeze at. Fans of the comic series Crossed may bark at the many similitudes. But, hey, if you like Crossed how discerning can you really be?

Set in Taipei, Taiwan, The Sadness unfolds in a single day. The audience’s avatars are a young couple going through a rough patch. Kat (Regina Lei) is a driven, intellectually-minded office worker. Her boyfriend, Jim (Berant Zhu), doesn’t have the ambition or the focus of his girlfriend.

Kat and Jim are so caught up in their daily drama that early signs of a pandemic barely register on their radar. The flu-like virus is believed to be mutating, but naysayers claim the warning is an overreaction and politically motivated. Before you can say “Do your own research sheeple!”, most of Taipei turns into a murderous horde. The bug attacks the limbic system and renders the victims unable to rein in their worst instincts, while still able to think short term. This leads to widespread cannibalism, torture, rape and murder.

Jim decides to brave the streets and the bloodthirsty crowds to find his girlfriend. Kat, in turn, must fend off crazed office drones, among them, a relentless businessman who’s fixated on her. A harrowing subway scene strikes some recognizable chords: unwanted attention, unprovoked attacks, toxic masculinity unleashed.

Writer/director Rob Jabbaz (a Canadian filmmaker from Mississauga) doesn’t spare the viewer much — and if it’s too grotesque, he lets your imagination fill up the blanks. The design of these spry zombies (black eyes, perennial grin on their faces) is particularly effective, as well as the makeup. To make matters more unsettling, the body mutilation and gallons of blood feel real. CGI has nothing on practical horror FX.

So what’s the entertainment value of The Sadness? At plain sight, it may appear as a self-indulgent gorefest. But the film is smarter than that. The setup, two lovers separated by insurmountable circumstances, is a time-tested plot device. Both are resourceful and likeable, and it’s not hard to root for them.

There’s fierce criticism of the misguided masses (the collective decision to call scientific advice “fake news” comes back to haunt them); the authorities (empty words hide lack of strategy); and the scientific community (data over people). Granted, the message is not terribly sophisticated. But it follows the time honoured tradition of zombie movies portraying social malaise.

There’s something commending about a movie this proudly dystopian. The Sadness believes if the opportunity presents itself, people will favour nihilistic pursuits rather than help their fellow humans. It’s not unlike the message in A Serbian Film, but at least here there’s a narrative structure behind it.  

Red band trailer: