The Sadness Review: Taiwanese Zombie Movie Is Soaked in Disturbing, Stomach-Churning Gore (Fantasia Film Festival)
The Sadness, a zombie feature set and produced in Taiwan, begins with the setup of a world that feels similar to our own, utilizing the language of the COVID-19 pandemic as we know it to prop up a world where infections have a population living on edge. Instead of the delta variant, this world's virus has mutated to create fiendish zombies, something that isn't as commonplace in exploitation as it may be in another year or two. Rather than exclusively eating flesh and stumbling about, though, the monsters at the center of this feature are smart and devious troublemakers who seem to exist solely for the purpose of reveling in carnage, killing, rape, and mayhem.
If there's a taboo in this world, The Sadness will go out of its way to break it, which is about all that can be said of the movie on the whole. Though a structural "plot" exists in the film, it's primarily a showcase of its gnarly-as-hell and frequently disgusting gore-themed set pieces. Writer/director Rob Jabbaz has crafted a film that is designed to celebrate debauchery over delivering a real narrative, and, though some may be turned off by this, it's the kind of nausea-inducing blood and guts shower that many horror fans find themselves chasing after. If that's what you're seeking, The Sadness has it in spades, but those looking for anything else may find themselves staring at the bottom of a trash can while hurling.
The opening sequences of the film might lead you to believe that this is one type of movie, but the zero-to-one-hundred quickness that The Sadness takes at roughly the 15-minute mark is proof that it's aiming to be the ultimate exercise in shock value. Within 60 seconds, a character has their face peeled off after having hot oil dumped on them, others are brutally stabbed, someone gets run over by a car, and a woman leaps from the top of a building into a mess of flesh. It's surprising how fast it all happens, but it's effective at being unsettling. The trouble is that after this scene, a nearly identical one carries out as the two leads are separated in the big city, while one experiences the outbreak of the infected for 10 minutes and then the other does with no synchronicity across the storytelling, forcing us to re-learn it all twice. The gore itself always manages to one-up what came before, but, after an hour of this, it becomes clear that the only places left to go with the effects are into only the most repulsive corners imaginable.
One thing that the larger "story" of The Sadness has going for it is the setup of a central infected character, Tzu-Chiang Wang (who is credited simply as "Businessman"), who antagonizes and terrorizes Regina Lei's Kat for most of the movie. It's a throughline that carries the entire movie even more than her relationship with Berant Zhu's Jim, but even with that at its core, it's just a navigation tool from scene to scene of blood flowing like fountains, flesh flying like chunks of ground beef, and every piece of a person being cut off. Though a late-game exposition dump arrives nearly 75% of the way through the film, it's not enough to recontextualize the mayhem that preceded it, plus it contradicts some key scenes we've been shown already.
The Sadness won't climb the mountain of the best zombie movies but it will find an audience with gorehounds eager to test their mettle and see if their stomach can handle the truly depraved and gruesome effects that are to be found. It's a film that feels like it's still competing with the French extreme movement and the torture movies of the 2000s, lots of gore (plenty of it gross), and not a lot else. Those with a weak stomach shouldn't even think about taking the trip.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
The Sadness had its North American premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival. No American release date has been confirmed yet.