Shudder Streaming: In These Unprecedented Times: The Sadness (2021)



The past few years have been trying for the entire globe--everyone's lives simultaneously turned upside down with disease, lock downs, masks, shortages, and fear of the unknown. At first, everyone seemed to be working together for the greater good, but as the pandemic stretched beyond a few months, selfishness started to take hold. The Sadness, a horror movie filmed in Taiwan by Canadian filmmaker Rob Jabbaz, puts this selfishness front and center as it follows a couple trying to survive during a violent outbreak of a viral pandemic.

Jim (Berant Zhu) and Kat (Regina Lei) are a normal young couple living together in Taiwan. After having a small argument Kat leaves for work while Jim stays behind. On the TV in the background a doctor discusses the Alvin Virus, a flu-like disease that has been spreading rapidly. He warns that the illness could mutate into something deadlier if the government doesn't take steps to enact a quarantine, but his concern is waved away by the show host as being hysterical. Sound familiar?

Predictably, the Alvin Virus does mutate, and it its new form it causes infected humans to lose all sense of morality and engage in depraved hedonistic acts both violent and sexual. These people are not the undead, they are very much alive, with a rabid desire to desecrate hapless victims in any way that they can. Jim is in the heart of the city when the disease starts spreading in earnest, and he has to use his wits to survive as he tries to make his way to where Kat is located so that they can escape together.

The Sadness starts out strong with its messaging, having characters spout phrases we have heard ad nauseam: "It's a hoax" "They are exaggerating the pandemic because it's an election year" and so on. Once the story is in full swing, however, that critique seems to fall by the wayside. That being said, if one looks at this as "show don't tell" it's not difficult to draw a parallel between the psychotic infected people making the city dangerous and the folks in real life who were out there during the worst times of the past few years fighting against safety measures tooth and nail while hospitals were overflowing with deathly ill people and refrigerated morgue trucks were parked out in the back to hold the extra corpses.

On the horror front The Sadness does not disappoint, filled to the brim with fantastically gory practical effects and buckets of blood. The extreme sexual violence will probably be more shocking for most people than the viscera, and the film doesn't pull any punches. Jabbaz has stated that the story is based on Garth Ennis' graphic novel Crossed, and believe it or not, The Sadness is watered down compared to the depravities on display in the Crossed franchise. Read that one at your own risk.

There are some touches of dark humor scattered throughout the narrative and Jabbaz makes an interesting choice by having one of the infected become a recurring character that stalks Kat as she tries to find a safe haven. The Businessman (Tzu-Chiang Wang) as he is called in the credits, has this strange charismatic energy around him, and he steals every scene he is in.

Jie-Li Bai's cinematography is slick and polished, making the movie feel more expensive than it is. The haunting electronic score by TZECHAR simmers underneath the action and deftly goes between ratcheting up the horrifying events or somberly underpinning the melancholy scenes.

The Sadness is a lean and mean pandemic-era flick that is a thumb pressed to the eye of the horror scene, cruelly digging itself in until it reaches the soft meat inside. Not for those with a weak stomach, but gore hounds will be cheering in their seats.

--Michelle Kisner