The Sadness - New Release Review
Director: Rob Jabbaz
Starring: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Ying-Ru Chen, Tzu-Chiang Wang
Written by: Rob Jabbaz
Produced by: David Barker
Cinematography by: Jie-Li Bai
Original Score by: Tzechar
A young couple trying to reunite amid a city ravaged by a plague that turns its victims into deranged, bloodthirsty sadists.
It's fair to say that out of all of the branches of horror the zombie/rage sub genre seems to be the one that peaks and valleys more than all others with specific parts of the world popularizing it. In the early 2010's ‘The Walking Dead’ was one of the most popular shows in America. Prior to that cult found footage hit ‘REC’ was unleashed from Spain and before that Danny Boyle breathed new life into the then dormant genre with British horror classic ‘28 Days Later’. Lately most of the greats of the genre seem to be coming from Asia with the riveting 2016 South Korean effort ‘Train to Busan’ and the Japanese delight that was 2017's ‘One Cut of the Dead’ being two particular highlights. With this success comes the release of Taiwanese gorefest ‘The Sadness’ from Rob Jabbaz but can it live up to the legacy of its fellow continents hits?
Inspired by the ‘Crossed’ comic book series, the film follows the fortunes of a young couple who are trying to reunite in a city where a pandemic known as the Alvin virus has been sweeping through the city. Initially it has little to no effect on those infected but out of the blue it rages out of its dormant state pushing the host into an animalistic state of sadism and violence.
The film opens with the young couple of Jim (played by Berant Zhu) and Kat (played by Regina Lei) quibbling over work and weekend plans completely oblivious of what horror awaits them. For these characters being the main focus of the film there isn't too much on offer from them in terms of characterisation other than their professions and minor traits such as Jim being selfish but having his heart in the right place. Even their setup is something we've seen time and time again and with a film like this with its intentions this is somewhat understandable but it is still lacking.
From here Jim watches a YouTube commentator who is having a discussion with a scientist who tries to warn the commentator about the severity of the Alvin virus but is constantly being put down and told it isn't as bad as many had feared it would be. Clearly writer/director Rob Jabbaz is lifting this straight from Geroge A. Romero's playbook by dressing this scene up like a modern update of the opening scene from ‘Dawn of the Dead’, only it feels more trying to relate it specifically to the Coronavirus pandemic. The first of many warning signs like a seemingly bloody accident at the side of the road and a strange neighbour standing on their roof looking off into the distance. Again it is nothing we haven't seen before but it is still a decent bit of build up.
Once Jim drops Kat off to work he stops by a local café where he encounters a sickly old woman. Her ghoulish swollen face, black eyes and rotted teeth are a repulsive visage are the first big horror visual of the film and are really effective at developing a creepy atmosphere but this dissipates almost instantly as she attacks the clientele and staff perfectly setting up the audience for what awaits. A wave of blood, vomit and all kinds of deep-fried unpleasantness ensue that wouldn't feel out of place in a Troma production moving the film forward at a frenetic pace that drives home the panic induced state of Jim and the sheer chaos of the situation unfolding.
The main villain known as The Businessman is introduced in the next scene on a train. He is a seemingly harmless old man at first who just wants to share a conversation with Kat but when she rejects his advances he quietly berates her. Matters are only escalated further when he is revealed to have the Alvin virus and all hell breaks loose resulting in what might be one of the most bloody scenes ever filmed on the train. It is at this point that the cracks start to appear in the film. Whilst the intent might be to entertain with over the top violence, the problem is that these kinds of moments are extremely mean spirited and overlong in some misplaced attempt to be edgy. This, along with attempts to instill some black humour to accompany these moments, feels completely disjointed as well.
But it isn't simply a one off, oh no. From here Jabbaz doubles down escalating the violence and gore further with the intent to shock but it ultimately makes for a miserable and downright dull experience to watch. What also makes it worse is that it draws attention to the poor writing pointing out the illogical decision making of characters and highlights how two dimensional they are. I know this is a common trait and flaw in a lot of horror films that can sometimes get away with it but after being assaulted by wave after wave of blood, guts and puke you realize that the film simply has nothing to offer.
For all of its flaws there are some positives to be taken from ‘The Sadness’. Whilst the gore may be gratuitous to a fault, the makeup and effects behind it are terrific. In terms of the look of the film, the sickly pale colour palette of green and yellow ties nicely with the premise and the times in which it breaks away to moments of violence, the harsh lighting exhibited works quite well. The score from Australasian music duo Tzechar is also quite effective at propelling the action and mayhem on screen.
There is no doubt that ‘The Sadness’ is a film that is selling itself on its extreme use of violence and gore and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is that it overuses it to the point of tedium where you simply don't care about anything that is happening to anyone on screen. Compared to the likes of ‘Braindead’ which is sold on its over the top slapstick use of blood and guts ‘The Sadness’ has a repulsive tone that makes it very difficult to enjoy on any level with a severe lack of substance making it feel extremely hollow.
- Joseph McElroy
'The Sadness' is available to stream on Shudder from May 12th