THE SADNESS **
Directed by Rob Jabbaz.
Starring Regina Lei, Berant Zhu, Tzu Chinag-Wang.
Horror, Taiwan, 99 minutes.
Streaming on Shudder 12th May, 2022.
Arriving on Shudder after a lengthy festival run, which included closing last year’s main FrightFest, THE SADNESS arrives on a wave of hype that highlights its extreme nature. All manner of gore and depravity is on display here in this tale of a pandemic in retreat that takes a sudden turn for the worst. But is it any good?
Well, there is a certain sense of timeliness that reverberates through the opening scenes of a city and its inhabitants embracing a return to normality after a lengthy pandemic. While protective masks are thrown aside against the advice of medical experts, quickly drowned out by impatient television hosts, we begin to follow young couple Jim and Kat as she makes her way to work, and he makes his way back home after dropping her off at the subway. Suddenly the virus that was thought harmless mutates, triggering a horrifically violent change in behaviour among those it has infected. Finding themselves in all manner of peril Jim and Kat try to make their way across the city to find each other.
Writer and director Rob Jabbaz sets things up nicely with an opening act that patiently sets up the situation with various hints of unease in the background that threaten to erupt at any given moment. When they do it is with an impressively executed set piece that kicks off with a seemingly innocuous act of everyday annoyance, that will seem familiar to many who have sat beside an annoying passenger on their work commute, that immediately descends into a shockingly gory outbreak of violence and depravity. From here on Jabbaz has his characters witness all manner of violence and sexual battery, often combined, as Jim tries to sneak through the back streets and Kat is pursued by a previously mild-mannered businessman who has undergone a severe personality transplant.
There is a point being made here about the thin line that holds back much of society giving into their basest instincts. Unfortunately, it is a point that comes at the expense of an involving storyline. Each character flees one situation to end up in a seemingly safer one, only for it to descend into bloody violence. After the second time it happens to each character it deflates the film of any tension. Take away the extreme nature of the film and it has very little, if anything, to differentiate it from the large number of zombie/infection horror movies and television series out there. Horror comic fans will also be reminded of the many similarities to Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrow’s comic CROSSED which examined a near identical premise on a bigger scale.
There are a couple of wickedly humorous scenes that enliven proceedings; a presidential address being a prime example, suggesting that the storyline could have been improved with a more satirical or subversive edge in its storytelling. What you get here though is what you see and nothing much else. Gorehounds may be satisfied on a basic level but as an example of truly effective extreme cinema it feels lacking despite the amount of gore, blood and various other bodily fluids that flood the screen. Although one shot of discarded protective masks littering the street may have you reconsidering pulling them on again, particularly if you are taking the subway