Review: The Sadness Is a Highly Effective and Wildly Unnerving Zombie Thriller

Who knew Taiwanese horror could be so…messy? Marking the feature debut of writer/director Rob Jabbaz (a Canadian filmmaker who has made his professional mark in Taiwan), The Sadness is a film constructed out of bloody chaos—fashioned like a zombie movie but actually a virus story (much like 28 Days Later)—telling the story of a young couple (Regina Lei as Kat, Berant Zhu as Jim), but his lack of motivation while out of a job is clearly wearing on her. In the background of their lives are news reports of people getting sick with some virus that turns them into sadistic rage monsters.

It isn’t until Jim drops Kat off at work that he even starts to notice the occasional strange character wandering the streets. He stops in a local eatery to grab food when someone walks in and begins a horrific and bloody outburst so that the true scope of this virus becomes apparent to him (and us). The virus takes over almost immediately and turns its victims into cannibalistic, angry, vindictive monsters who not only scream wildly but tell you exactly how badly they are going to mess you up right before they do it. The rest of The Sadness is watching Kat and Jim avoiding getting killed or otherwise brutalized while trying to reunite somewhere relatively safe.

Winner of the Best First Feature Prize at the prestigious Fantasia International Film Festival, the movie has a violent and crazed vibe that is part scary-part deeply inappropriate (in the best way). The virus-infected monsters make things messy, gooey, and as painful as inhumanly possible, and they do all of this with menacing smiles on their faces. The entire work is highly effective and wildly unnerving. Like all great horror, The Sadness also works as a metaphor: the age of civility and order and caring for each other is out the window in this new version of society, all thanks to a highly contagious virus. You get it.

Late in the film, Kat runs into a virologist (Wei-Hua Lan as Dr. Alan Wong) in the local hospital, and while he seems to be a narrow beam of hope in this blood-soaked world, it turns out even he can’t be trusted. This isn’t a spoiler but I was holding out hope. The film’s combination of violence and depravity may wear down some people, and that’s completely understandable. But we’re rooting for this couple to be reunited, even though there isn’t much hope for them even if they do. The Sadness is a visceral filmgoing experience, and in a lot of ways a major downer since the title also refers to all that we’re left with when all the good is drained from the world, as it is in this movie. Enjoy!

The film is now streaming on Shudder.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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