Directed By Rob Jabbaz
Starring – Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Ying-Ru Chen
The Plot – After a year of combating a pandemic with relatively benign symptoms, a frustrated nation finally lets its guard down. This is when the virus spontaneously mutates, giving rise to a mind-altering plague. The streets erupt into violence and depravity, as those infected are driven to enact the most cruel and ghastly things they can think of. Murder, torture, rape and mutilation are only the beginning. A young couple (Zhu and Lei) is pushed to the limits of sanity as they try to reunite amid the chaos. The age of civility and order is no more. There is only “The Sadness”.
Rated R for scenes of bloody brutality, adult language, and peril
By 2022 standards, it’s difficult to appall or even momentarily unnerve a majority of audiences, but “The Sadness” resonates ever so memorably with its combination of sociological commentary and unfiltered gore that go a long way towards conjuring something freshly innovative for the zombie subgenre. On the former, it’s obvious that this film about a pandemic coming out during a time when we’re still very much enveloped in our own is a stirring coincidence, but the dialogue and material bring with it several eerie instances of exposition that not only vividly reflect many of the statements and similarities that have become commonplace from social media gunslingers, but also helped to illustrate a method to mayhem for these zombie antagonists that flesh them out as a female’s worst nightmare. When I say this film is difficult to watch at times, I mean it, going for the jugular quite literally and figuratively in ways that pay off immensely for the macabre of the material, all the while cementing it as endearingly unforgettable in the scheme of the spectrum that this film is constantly unloading on a vulnerable audience. For the devil in the details, a majority of the effects being practical competently elicited a naturalistic believability in quality that made me appreciate the minimalist budget in the movie’s production, and the ensuing buckets of blood made a film like the Evil Dead remake feel like a strawberry sundae by comparison. The depiction and patient focus in the camera work certainly elicit an exploitative emphasis to their depiction, but it’s deemed all the more necessary in a zombie thriller that actually lives up to both sides of that designation with the aforementioned unavoidable aspects that Jabbaz unloads like a kid in a candy store with the deepest of pockets. Beyond this, the film itself actually startled me in certain parts, with gripping sound design and luminous lighting attaining a supernatural essence to the nightmare transpiring before our very eyes. There are a few untimely jump scares that are earned in their manifestations, but in particular it’s the palpable ominousness of influence from those aforementioned aspects of production that help to elevate the tension and urgency of the claustrophobic conflict, eliciting something truly inescapable in closed-in quarters that proceeds even where the flesh-eaters outside don’t. Beyond this, the acting itself is also a welcoming surprise, with Lei unloading an initial tenderness and developing sorrow to her character’s plight that not only helps her transcend the preconceived conception of zombie film protagonists being purely one-dimensional, but also in fleshing out the terrifying nature of the situation, with Regina’s unbridled anxiety finding its way to the urgency of every unforeseen conflict she finds herself riddled into.
To say this film and its 100-minute run time is a swift sit full of razor sharp pacing might seem like a benefit to its cause, but the immediate motion to movements during the opening act create an overwhelming set of limitations that the film never finds its way towards eluding. The first is the depth of the storytelling, which beyond the initial layering feels as unexplored and inconsequential as a film like this needs to attain in exceeding itself as just another zombie movie. The ideas are certainly there to conjure something innovative, especially in the design of the blood-sucking antagonists feeling like the worst versions of MeToo offenders, however the execution stalls in moments when the inception of the idea goes entirely unnoticed, giving us another instance of a zombie pandemic where the answers seem like the least important aspect to the storytelling, despite the limitations of its prominence conveying otherwise. Beyond this, the ending, while riveting with an impactful final gut punch to the film’s climactic resolution and ensuing stakes, is directed so cryptically ambiguous that it never attains half of the momentum needed to leave audiences standing on the highest peak of the adrenaline on their way out of the experience. Depiction is certainly the issue, with us hearing more than we’re seeing, but an equally confounding issue is in the set-up itself, which requires a sustaining of disbelief to coherently reach the script at eye level. This is certainly nothing new for zombie cinema, but it does channel an air of dishonesty in a film continuously enhanced by realistic aspects of our own plaguing virus, and cements what I feel is the weakest part of the film during the moments it matters most.
With a few original elements of design to its chaotic cause, “The Sadness” constructs one of the more viscerally vicious installments to the zombie subgenre in recent memory. Though the depths of its storytelling are spontaneously halted within the limitations of its length, the waterfalls of carnage candy are more than enough to justify the cause, pushing entertainment value to a degree that tests the will and the stomachs of its shock-hungry audience.
My Grade: 8/10 or B