Although it lacks the necessary heart to engage with the characters properly, Rob Jabbaz’s The Sadness, aka. the bloodiest film of the year, is a full-throttled and fun gore-fest.
This is a pretty exciting time in horror cinema. The pandemic has inspired many directors to create horror or thriller pictures. Some of them are misfires, but there are pretty good works for the most part. This time of confinement has encouraged them to focus more on the atmosphere of each film – the dread creeping up from the shadows (In the Earth) or the tenebrous foreshadowing (All the Moons). A few weeks back, Shudder released the “zombie” movie (even though the word “zombie” wasn’t mentioned) Virus: 32 – another example of a pandemic-inspired horror picture with a virus as its narrative backbone. That movie had some bright spots in its heart and compassion for the characters, as well as its performances by its lead duo. However, I felt it held back on the aggression a bit too much for it to maintain the right amount of tension. Shudder has a somewhat of an answer for that. The platform delivers the exact opposite, Rob Jabbaz’s The Sadness. I can describe it as the bloodiest film of the year, and I don’t think another movie will get close to beating it.
After years of working in the VFX and animation industries, Rob Jabbaz delivers his feature-length directorial debut. Nowadays, it is rare to see such a blood-soaked and carnage-filled debut; it is an achievement on his part not only because he got away with all this violence from the get-go but also because he wrote, directed, and edited it. The Sadness is set in the city of Taipei, Taiwan, in our current pandemic times; there is no mention of isolation or laws of restrictions, but we do see people wearing masks. It begins with the two main protagonists, Jim (Berant Zhu) and Kat (Regina Lei), waking up before each goes to their respective jobs. This is a sweet and caring moment before the movie takes a violent turn. Ten to fifteen minutes into the film, the screen is soaked in crimson red. The city of Taipei has erupted into chaos; there is no order. People have been infected and driven mad, causing them to do the vilest and most cruel acts one could imagine – torture, mutilation, murder, amongst others.
While trapped on other sides of the city, the young couple must find a way to reunite amidst this frenzy. The Sadness references many horror pictures from great directors such as George A. Romero (The Crazies) and David Cronenberg (Shivers and Rabid). It goes full-throttle immediately, running and gunning with its aggression and sheer violence, in the manner of 2017’s Mayhem, but even bloodier. However, it isn’t as firmly put together as the films previously mentioned, directing and narrative-wise. Since it goes one hundred miles per hour, it doesn’t let the audience breathe nor absorb the moments in which you are supposed to connect with the characters. In addition, it doesn’t have the necessary amount of heart or moments of compassion. A film like Train to Busan goes as fast as its moving train does, yet makes you care deeply about its characters. There could have been an even 50/50 split, or at least a 40/60 division, of empathy and violence.
One intriguing aspect about its infected beings is that they keep their cognitive functions. They aren’t entirely mindless; it’s just that their inhibitions are just not present. The infected react quickly to quench their thirst for malevolency. Nevertheless, these same evil acts, including ones of sexual assault, may cause some viewers to turn off the screen due to their very graphic nature. A couple of scenes are a bit hard to watch; it is very much in your face and doesn’t shy from showing everything it has in store, in both good and bad qualities. I think what director Rob Jabbaz wanted to say with his debut is that the potential for all this violence exists at all times, no matter the place. The virus aspect of it all makes the hostility even more visible than before and thus causing carnage and decimation. Regardless, from the first impression, it’s hard if everything that happens during the picture can be justified in reference to the uncomfortable scenes.
Despite all that, I must give credit where credit is due. It is, indeed, a very nasty and bloody film. A couple of wince-inducing sequences are intertwined with ones that will make you squirm, all with significant practical effects as well as makeup. Fingers are cut, heads are smashed with fire extinguishers a la Irreversible, necks are stabbed, guts are splattered, and many other things cause the makeup and effects to shine. It has been a long while since a horror flick has made me wince from its gore, so props to the team. The Sadness is definitely a film that would have been banned by censors back in the 80s. It’s also filled with a lot of dark humor that will both shock you and make you snicker on occasions (some jokes are a bit too much). What will Jabbaz follow this with? He can’t get any more brutal than this. If you can stomach everything on the screen, you will most probably have a blast with this one. It causes shock more than analysis and curiosity, but it will undoubtedly have its large audience of gore-hounds.
The Sadness premieres on Shudder on May 12, 2022.