Move Review: ‘The Sadness’

Among horror fans lately a Taiwanese film imported by Shudder has had everyone buzzing. The feature length directorial debut from Rob Jabbaz, The Sadness is nothing less than a terrifying assault on the viewer just as much as it is the two protagonists on the screen. As soon as the terror begins it does not relent until the end.

In a world that no doubt strikes a chord of familiarity with many of us an ongoing pandemic has been raging for about a year forcing young couple Jim and Kat to adapt to a new normal like everyone else. One morning as Kat goes to work and Jim goes about his day those infected by the virus take a dark turn for the worst. People around them are transformed into homicidal maniacs who not only prey on anyone around them but do so with sadistic glee.

I believe it was Clive Barker who said that when you watch a horror film you should feel like the camera is being controlled by a mad man. Though I will not make assumptions as to his actual mental state, Rob Jabbaz is definitely up to the task of being that mad man. He forces us as the audience into a world where people inflicting brutal unflinching violence onto one another has become the norm. No doubt the level of violence is the first thing everyone has heard of when it comes to the Sadness, but nothing prepares you for that opening volley where an infected woman not only throws a basket of boiling grease onto a man’s head, but then proceeds to tear away at the burning flesh. Jabbaz does not hesitate to break any taboo with the depravity onscreen, but whereas so many other filmmakers would do so merely for shock value there is far more to the Sadness than this. This is a world we recognize and know in many ways where every form of structure, societal norm, and civility has broken down. As many of us continue to see no doubt, the events of the past few years have brought out the worst in humanity in so many ways, and this film cranks that up to the Nth degree.

Against this blood-soaked background our two protagonists fight to reunite with one another. They are an ordinary mild-mannered couple in a world gone to hell clinging to the sliver of hope they have in each other. While they may have little in the way of character of development to work with Berant Zhu and Regina Lei hit all of the right notes perfectly to draw you in and make you root for them. Lei in particular is fantastic as we watch her evolve from an ordinary woman into the kind of person who does what is necessary to survive in this new world of madness.

With his first time making a full length film Rob Jabbaz has immediately established himself as one of a new generation of horror filmmakers ready to take the genre into exciting new places. The Sadness is an unapologetically bleak and violent movie that dares you look away from a world consumed by a virus that turns anyone infected into an absolute monster.