Another week, another zombie movie premieres on Shudder. At face value, The Sadness doesn’t promise much outside of the familiar narrative. But this Taiwanese horror movie comes with a buzz generally reserved for the most shocking horror movies. Its violence and purported willingness to cross just about any boundary may draw comparisons to A Serbian Film, Martyrs, or Irreversible. The Sadness marks Canadian director Rob Jabazz’s feature-length debut. And he’s made quite the first impression with critics.
When a viral pandemic suddenly erupts across Taiwan, the infected turn into raging homicidal maniacs. The city almost immediately plunges into chaos. Murder, rape, cannibalism – the virus drives people to their most primal instincts. Separated across the city from one another, Jim and Kat …
The Sadness Boasts Wall-to-Wall Gore and Transgressive Violence
For better or worse, there isn’t much else to The Sadness in terms of story. This is a straightforward movie that’s as primal in nature as the infected that populates it. Writer and director Rob Jabbaz doesn’t waste much time getting to the point. In this case, the point is sheer transgressive violence. That is, The Sadness is almost wall-to-wall gore. No moral boundary isn’t crossed. In fact, this may be the most violent horror movie in recent memory. Everything from cannibalism to eye-gouging to a blood-soaked infected orgy is on display. And most of this visceral gore comes courtesy of impressive practical effects. Arguably, even the most hardened horror fan will need to turn their head occasionally.
…The Sadness is almost wall-to-wall gore. No moral boundary isn’t crossed.
Additionally, The Sadness is almost a relentless experience. Following 20 minutes of introductions to Jim and Kat, Jabbaz rarely takes his foot off the throttle. He exhibits a deft hand at building suspense and tension before capitalizing on it. The Sadness isn’t just all shock and awe. But Jabbaz can’t maintain this pace for the entirety of the movie. Specifically, Jabbaz slows things down in its third act. Aside from a bit too much expository dialogue, some of the scene just doesn’t work. Simply put, the lack of story doesn’t justify the emotional payoff Jabbaz wants. Nonetheless, The Sadness ends on an appropriately dour note.
The Sadness is Lean on Character and Story
As alluded to above, The Sadness lacks much of a story. Outside of its setup, Jabbaz doesn’t offer much reason to invest in either Jim or Kat. There’s no definable character arc here. They’re more like video game characters that need to be navigated from one point to another. As a result, The Sadness never achieves the level of emotional resonance you’ll find in Train To Busan. Both lead performances from Berant Zhu and Regina Lei are excellent. In particular, Tzu-Chiang Wan makes for a terrifying antagonist as ‘The Businessman’.
As a result, The Sadness never achieves the level of emotional resonance you’ll find in Train To Busan.
In spite of its lack of story, The Sadness does have a few themes at play. More than likely, Jabbaz uses his fictional ‘Alvin virus’ to make statements about COVID-19 and public misinformation. An early television news scene with a talkshow host dismissing a doctor feels all too familiar. Similar hot takes are spread out across The Sadness. But they feel more like passing references than fully developed and realized themes. Ultimately, The Sadness is more experience than storytelling.
The Sadness Overcomes Familiarity and Simplicity with Raw Aggression
If its story is threadbare and characters underdeveloped, you’re not likely to notice all that much. For horror fans able to stomach the gore, The Sadness is an undeniably visceral horror movie. Somehow Jabbaz finds a way to re-animate zombies in a way that’s equal parts familiar but fresh. Not everyone will be able to sit through it. The sexual violence in the movie will certainly be off-putting for many viewers. But The Sadness is no less thrilling, terrifying, and it remembers that horror is rooted in transgression.