The Sadness (FANTASTIC) is the Scariest Horror Film I’ll Never Recommend
Updated: May 14, 2022
Title: The Sadness
First Non-Festival Release: January 22, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Rob Jabbaz
Writer: Rob Jabbaz
Runtime: 99 Minutes
Starring: Regina Lei, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Berant Zhu
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here (TBD)
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Fantastic Film Festival 2021.
WARNING: Before reading any further, please know that graphic depictions of rape and sexual violence are portrayed in The Sadness. This is your warning to click away if you would rather not read about this subject material.
Debates surrounding the threat posed by the Alvin Virus culminate in the day a strong mutation arises and begins spreading through cities like wildfire. The effects of this variant showcase in its hosts by attacking their limbic system which pushes them to perform the most grotesque and depraved acts upon their fellow citizens. Capable of basic cognizant thoughts but overwhelmed by the desire to inflict pain, the masses ravage the city within hours. Amidst the chaos and violence, a young couple fights to reunite and leave before they become victims to the scourge.
The Sadness will leave you feeling gutted and hopeless much like the many victims of its infected masses.
Aside from some subtle mentions of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is very little direct political commentary in this film. Instead, The Sadness operates as a general critique on society and the violence that lies within. When violence springs out of nowhere, the first instinct of many is to record on their phones without offering any assistance. Passive bystanders aren’t worthy of total derision, of course, but it raises the question of how reliant we are to turn to our phones for security in times of need. There are many instances throughout the film, characters are presented with ethical dilemmas that go against their survival. And even when characters do help, they find themselves rewarded with their generosity with becoming a target for violence, either by the perpetrators or those they had helped in the first place.
Not much else happens plot wise in The Sadness. It plays out in the same reliable way most pandemic, and infection related horror films do from character betrayals and climax locations. Truly there isn’t much depth to the characters either. While some survivors try and do good to combat against the overwhelming onslaught of evil, there isn’t much that can be done. Additionally, we are meant to arrive to the conclusion that everyone is capable of this depravity, virus or otherwise, under the right circumstances.
Pitch black nihilism and extreme gore breeds an unrelenting ride in one of the most intense and torturous cinematic experiences of the new decade. Once the violence starts, it doesn’t let up until it’s soul crushing conclusion. Until then sensory overload comes in the form of punishingly realistic sound design and eye widening visuals of bloodied viscera. Every piece of gore and stray body part thrown across the screen is crafted in a way that maximizes the empathetic pain response in its viewers. In the end director Rob Jabbaz did what he set out to do, which is create an affecting and oftentimes traumatic film that will satisfy gore hounds and nauseate everyone else.
It’s central premise also brings up a necessary conversation on the place on violence in society. Tzu-Chiang Wang plays the homicidal businessman who, after facing rejection by Kat (Regina Lei) and is turned by the horde of infected, makes it his mission to track her down and defile her in the worst ways. His dialogue, and the dialogue of many infected, is some of the most unnerving I’ve heard (or read) in a horror film. It works as well as the violence, implied or otherwise, to disturb the viewer. The threats of rape, and other dark tortures, loom over Kat and other survivors, just as the news broadcasters in the film clearly state: everyone is vulnerable.
To me, this reads as an allegory for the nature of sexual violence and how intertwined it is in society. While truly abhorrent, most of what’s written could easily be found on millions of different websites in toxic comment sections where lurkers feel powerful behind the anonymity of their keyboards or in "casual" conversations in locker rooms. The concept that this virus gives courage to our worst impulses, thoughts, and desires, while nothing new, is very much real. How many stories do you hear of someone committing a terrible crime where everyone in their life sewars up and down they never saw it coming? It’s not a pleasant thought but it’s real. And The Sadness takes that concept and runs with it, for better or for worse.
There isn’t any other way to say it, The Sadness is an extremely messed up film. Mean-spirited, relentless, and bleak beyond words, it takes a special kind of person to make it through its entirety. For most, horror isn’t an endurance contest, but for extreme horror aficionados The Sadness delivers depravity alongside a healthy budget in ways that most other films of its nature can only dream of securing. The Sadness might be the most disturbing film I have watched in years. I have not physically yelled out in fear at a movie theater until I watched The Sadness. I knew going in what to expect and the film delivers on its promise and more.
With all the being said, I will never recommend this film to anyone except those that seek out the most stomach-churning content they can find. This is not a dare. There is no test. I am not gate keeping when I say, this film is best left to those who can handle the worst of the worst. It tested my boundaries and made me far more uncomfortable than I am used to being. So, please take this as me watching out for you: if you believe this content, particularly the sexual violence and torture, will harm you after watching, do not seek out this film. Its weak plot and undercooked characters are propped up by a level of carnage so horrifying that it will disorient you into believing more happened here than it did. The Sadness won’t leave you breathing a sigh of relief; it will leave you feeling winded and hopeless.
Overall Score? 8.5/10