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CRUEL INFECTIONS

The Sadness (18)

Director: Rob Jabbaz
Screenplay: Rob Jabbaz

Starring: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Ying-Ru Chen

Review: David Stephens

You can't just make a "zombie" movie these days and not add a hook to it. Otherwise, the prospective audience is going to just yawn and roll their eyes (across the floor). So in 2021, when Rue Morgue Magazine put "The Sadness" on their cover with the tagline "Inside the most violent and depraved zombie movie ever made", eyebrows and expectations were raised. The feature-length directorial debut of Canadian filmmaker Rob Jabbaz it's a Taiwanese production from the horror fan who has been living in the country for a decade or so. Funded by cryptocurrency and various sources, it was initially going to be a "Resident Evil" type plot, where people were driven crazy by math equations rather than the T-Virus(?!) Then it all changed and became heavily influenced by the Garth Ennis comic "Crossed" and other genre films like "28 Days Later". Not received that well in its own territory, it has since picked up some excellent reviews from the festival circuit after screenings at Fantasia and Frightfest. Now streaming on Shudder in the UK and US, we take a look at this highly anticipated extreme horror.

 

Opening with some suspiciously Covid-looking cells jiggering about, the plot takes place in the current day (but in an alternate reality) as the "Alvin" virus is giving people the sniffles in Taipei City. There is nothing to worry about, though, as no one has died, people are wearing masks, and the Chinese Government says everything is okey-dokey. Loving young couple Jim (Berant Zhu) and Kat (Regina Lei) wake up and separate to go to their respective jobs. Unfortunately, their daily routine is interrupted by dark-eyed miscreants who have been infected by a mutated form of the virus. Giving in to primal urges, they cause the city to descend into chaos in minutes and start … erm … "mistreating" the uninfected in cruelly sadistic ways. Amid the bloodshed and craziness, Jim and Kat struggle to find each other.

 

If you're aware of the "Crossed" comic book, you'll have a good idea of what to expect here. It's like "28 Days Later" or "The Crazies" with the infected also having chugged some Viagra, rather than a simple "Dawn of the Dead" scenario or suchlike. Having said that, it is perhaps not quite as extreme as you might be led to believe. There are some wince-worthy sexual threats, a blood-soaked foursome, and some nasty moments of unfettered sexual misogyny. Not to mention a moment that echoes an infamous scene from "A Serbian Movie" that is (thankfully) not shown explicitly. But mostly, it's all about nausea and the blood. And there's a hell of a lot of it!

 

There's something REALLY unsettling about the "infected" in "Sadness". Along with their darkened eyes, they have crazy manic grins similar to some of the "Titans" in the "Attack on Titan" anime series. Like them, they have little empathy for their victims. Eyeballs are punctured, throats are gashed, and torsos are stabbed multiple times. A couple of standout sequences leave the cast and the set literally awash in blood and gore as suspiciously copious amounts of body juice erupt from cut arteries and gaping wounds. It also helps that the antagonists retain their intelligence and speech, just not their self-control. In a nice touch, some of them weep whilst a-ripping-and-a-tearing, and it's suggested that they still feel internal guilt but are unable to stop their instinctual depravity.

 

Both Lei and Zhu are perfect in their roles, showing a pure sweetness in their relationship. But it's the Businessman (Tzu-Chiang Wang) who ends up stealing the show at some points. A hyper-realised version of the pervy city gent who tries to harass young women, it's a great turn that manages to be nasty and disturbing at the same time. Like all good genre offerings, there's also some horror homage (watch out for a scene snatched directly from Cronenberg's "The Fly") and some satire as well. Note how some of the violence and nastiness comes from people before they get infected with "Alvin".

It's a well-shot zombie variant with solid elements, which is (perhaps refreshingly) free from evident humour (even the "Nutcracker" hurts to watch). Some satirical features are a little heavy-handed (the Chinese Government broadcast, for instance). The ending is also a little underwhelming and exposition-heavy, with one particular narrative development that can be seen from space. Other than that, this is the sort of fare that festival-goers and hardcore horror fans will absolutely love and is very likely to be the bloodiest film that you'll see all year. Mind you; it's only May. Anyway, no need to be sad. We recommend that you check this out on Shudder straightaway and watch out for a home media release in the future. "Alvin and the Meat-Chunks" as an alternative title?

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Gloriously gruesome and blood-strewn to a high degree, "Sadness" is a well-shot and stylish attempt to create something different from the rage-zombie genre. It's nicely acted and has some standout moments. Despite a slightly underwhelming ending and some misleading hyperbole, it's definitely not sad or bad.