Maybe this says far more about myself as a person than I care to admit, but: aside from looking for familiar names, my first instinct when a film festival’s lineup drops is to see what film premises most immediately make me say “holy sh*t”.
The Sadness, a Taiwanese extreme action/horror film from Canadian director Rob Jabbaz, is the kind of film that leaps off the page and goes straight for the jugular. Partially inspired by the infamous graphic novel Crossed by Garth Ennis (which I lovingly describe as ‘what if a Cannibal Corpse album cover was a comic book’), The Sadness follows a young Taiwanese couple, Jim and Kat, who are thrust into a survival scenario like no other when their city falls under the spell of a viral pandemic – one that drives the infected to inflict their most bloodthirsty, depraved desires on anyone they can find.
But what really matters is whether it actually delivers the goods once you’re sat in front of the big (or small screen) with your popcorn, and let me tell you: The Sadness is exactly the movie it promises to be, with gleeful abandon.
The infected antagonists of this film aren’t just mindless pseudo-zombies, lumbering about the streets – they’re intelligent, capable and spiteful. These are human beings with the inhibition switch not only flicked off, but ripped out at the root and wielded as a deadly weapon. Some of the film’s most shocking and striking sequences are the result of not just the on-screen violence, but the way in which its perpetrators derive an almost transcendent pleasure from inflicting it.
Tzu-Chiang Wang absolutely steals the show as the film’s primary antagonist, a middle-aged businessman whose tone-deaf advances on Kat are rebuffed early into the film. In a nightmarish sequence where the virus spreads in a tightly-packed subway train, Wang becomes a relentless pursuer of Kat, vowing to get exactly what he wants from her.
I’d hate to spoil too much, but the special effects team here truly excelled. The infected have such a distinctive look about them; bulbous, weeping eyes that have fully given way to the pupil. It’s the perfect compliment to the grotesque, wide grins plastered on the faces of each infected citizen, no matter whether they’re stabbing a victim to death or writhing together in a tangled, bloody orgy. The Sadness can proudly boast some of the most toe-curling, viscerally unpleasant and well-done gore in recent memory.
For those who don’t see the appeal in nihilistic gore-fests, it’s safe to say this might not be your jam. But for audiences who are looking for something challenging, with the spirit of an early Troma film but truly menacing direction, this is the must-see extreme horror film of the year.