I had been hearing a lot of buzz about the Taiwanese film The Sadness since its international premiere back in autumn of 2021, and most of said buzz revolved around noting what an absolutely brutal bloodbath the film is. Well, now I’ve seen it, courtesy of Shudder, and I can confirm that The Sadness is every bit as gory, violent, and depraved as advertised. It’s also a relentlessly propulsive and utterly fantastic slice of extreme horror cinema.
Written and directed by Canadian-born Rob Jabbaz in his feature-length debut, the film is not exactly a direct adaptation of Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows’s Crossed comic book series, but is very strongly influenced by it. Though some reviews have called it a zombie film, it’s technically an infection horror, similar in premise to films like 28 Days Later and The Crazies. And just like those films, other than being wildly entertaining and sick, it also has a lot to say about the way in which some segments of the world’s population reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the beginning of the story, we’re introduced to a sweet young couple, Jim and Kat. They have a little bit of a spat one morning about a proposed vacation they had planned for the following week. It’s just your standard couple stuff. But insidious news is intruding on all this domestic normalcy: for example, Jim sees a creepy-looking old woman with blood down the front of her nightgown standing on the roof of the next building over. Further, a report Jim watches on YouTube has a pooh-poohing podcast host grilling a doctor who is desperately trying to get people to take a potentially deadly new variant of the rapidly spreading “Alvin virus” more seriously. All the stuff we’ve all lived through for the past two years is here: people insisting the virus is a hoax; other people conceding that the virus exists, but isn’t all that bad; still more people insisting that the virus was engineered by elites for political reasons. We all know the drill by now.
Jim and Kat get on Jim’s scooter so he can drive her to the subway station for work. On the way there, the pair see the aftermath of a bloody scene, with the cops arresting a guy who’s acting feral, and a gore-soaked body nearby, beneath a sheet. This is horrific, obviously, but the full extent of the crisis is not yet apparent, so Jim and Kat continue on their way.
After Jim drops his girlfriend off, he ducks into a café for a cup of coffee, but only minutes later, the old woman from earlier shambles in, and she REALLY does not look very well at all. She proceeds to puke on one guy, and then grab the cook from behind the counter and throw hot oil from the fryer onto his face, tearing the man’s flesh off in bubbly globs while the dude screams in agony. And after that, it’s off to the races.
Basically, this new variant of the Alvin virus is akin to rabies, as a virologist explains later on in the film. The disease affects the limbic system, and essentially weaves together the portions of the brain concerned with sex and violence, making the sufferers into savage, rapey psychopaths who no longer feel any need to restrain their baser impulses. The infected are still lucid, still retain all of their faculties and memories, but simply can’t resist the urge to rape, torture, mutilate, and kill in the most vicious manner possible.
While Jim speeds through the city on his scooter, trying to get away from the infected, Kat is having her own problems. On the subway, she’s being accosted by some pervy old fart who insists on interacting with her after she has told him clearly to leave her alone. All of a sudden, another guy on the subway succumbs to infection, and begins maniacally stabbing everyone within reach, causing geysers of blood to spray in all directions. The pervy old guy also turns, and stabs a girl in the eye with his umbrella. It’s absolute carnage in the train car, with blood flowing in the aisles and victims being raped and mercilessly brutalized.
In the chaos, Kat manages to escape the infected, dragging the girl who was stabbed in the eye—whose name is Molly—out with her. Mr. Creepy Old Businessman isn’t finished with the girls yet, though, and proceeds to relentlessly pursue them through the city, killing anyone who gets in his way.
The story of the film is a simple one of survival, as Kat tries to get Molly to a hospital, then is forced to fight her way out of the hospital after it becomes overrun. Jim is racing to get to the hospital to be reunited with Kat, all the while trying to avoid the infected that are spreading like wildfire through the streets.
Where the movie really shines, though, as implied earlier, is in its utter ferocity and complete lack of sentimentality. Absolutely no one is safe. This film has an “extreme horror” warning at the beginning for a reason: heads are crushed with fire extinguishers and blown up with grenades; people are beaten, eviscerated, and torn limb from limb; men, women, and corpses are raped; a woman is raped in her stabbed eye socket; babies are deliberately infected with the virus and killed…it’s a lot. Almost all the effects are practical, which is awesome to see, and while you might be thinking from my litany above that the violence here would be so over the top that it becomes absurd or funny (like you see in, say, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive), that’s really not the case; the savagery is kept pretty grounded and realistic, so it’s much more disturbing than humorous, and some of the most disturbing stuff isn’t even shown in its entirety, but is simply suggested by sound effects or by things the characters say.
If you’ve been wanting to see a really fucked-up, gory as all get-out flick that uses the pandemic as a jumping off place to explore the depths of depravity that humans can sink to without too much provocation, then The Sadness just might be the movie you’ve been waiting for. It’s absolutely NOT for the squeamish, but gorehounds and fans of fast-paced infection horror will probably love it.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.