A Sinking Zombie Fest with Modern Sensibilities and Uncompromising Gore
It would be too straightforward to call ‘The Sadness’ just a zombie film. The element has an overbearing presence in the storytelling. But keeping in mind the current disease climate in the world, ‘The Sadness’ presents marked observations about the impact such disaster events can have on the human condition.
Like most apocalyptic features, ‘The Sadness’ stages the lost zest of humanity as its core theme. The violence, and the gore, overshadow the idea’s tangible impact, even though it is mostly used as a recurring motif to bound the film in an emotional arc. In the absence of any formal comment, the film seems to be a re-imagining of Joe Lynch’s 2017 cult-classic ‘Mayhem’. Comparatively, they are distinctively shot in different settings. Replacing the “Red Eye” virus is the Alvin virus, hitherto having only cold-like symptoms (COVID much?). Once relaxations from curbs (lockdowns and such) are enforced to woo voters before the elections, the virus assumes a dangerous face.
The film takes place in Taiwan and follows a young couple, Kat and Jim, separated on the fateful day when the outbreak takes a virulent and violent shape. The city quickly descends into chaos as the infected take over it. The couple cannot keep in touch and tread on their own paths in different parts of the city The film’s concept holds on well in the early parts. The intrigue with a fresh story and premise is refreshing for the first half of the film.
It provides ‘The Sadness’ and director Rob Jabbaz enough time to create the aesthetical fabric of violence that is its highlight. The gore genre, so to speak, is beginning to increase its yearly churn. With the number of new stories coming out, the challenge for many films in this category is to negate the overwhelming bearing such aesthetics have on narration. More often than not, the challenge becomes subjects of criticism in reviews like these. Jabbaz tries to circumvent fusing narrative consistency with his choice of representation of violence. And he does so with stout craftsmanship.
So when a director remains true to his style and vision like this, it is our job to recognize this self-awareness and exercise restraint. This is the same reason why we love Zack Snyder so much. Michael Bay – not so much. But you get the idea.
‘The Sadness’ presents intelligent production values. Within the low budget, the team has managed to create a harrowing picture of Taiwan – one that none of us would like to see. Sans the technical witchcraft, Jabbaz relies more on creating isolated sets. His single sequences in themselves reflect a child-like wonder of an obsessed cinephile trying to find his own voice. He goes old-school in carving out the violence-ridden and blood-soaked streets but does so with his own stamp of authority.
Jabbaz’s exciting journey through Taiwan is laced with frantic paranoia. The visceral nature of his storytelling includes seeing a schoolgirl get blinded in one eye with an umbrella by a middle-aged predator and then becoming his wingman to hunt for people.
The infected people in ‘The Sadness are not delirious’, but, in the words of the scientist in the film, overcome with desire. It explains why they go after other people. For them, controlling their sexual fantasies and urge becomes impossible. The alembic unlocking in their minds makes their actions detached from civility and human sense. This animalistic, raw environment makes the watching experience more gnarly and uncomfortable. Tzu-Chiang Wang (the man who chases Kat) is the unsung hero of the film. His performance is by far one of the most frightening iterations of “out of control” I have seen on screen in a long time. Other cast members fit in well within the scheme of a disease-led outbreak dismantling the city from normalcy.
‘The Sadness’ is stylish and will please fans of the gore genre that has taken new suitors in flocks in recent times. Some of the truly disgusting scenes also evoke laughter in their sheer absurdity. It does not solidly add to the genre as Jabba would have expected. However, it provides something different that is a great first-time watch.
Verdict - 7/10