Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 Film Review – The Sadness (2021)

Steel yourself for the blood-spattered death of morality and the rise of animalistic gratification in the most profoundly violent movie experience of the year.

An alternate version of Taiwan has been under the cloud of the Alvin virus for years. As precautions relax the virus breaks the shackles of its dormant protein chains and unleashes its true purpose. Melding the bond between the dark side of sexual desire and unchecked mega-violence to devastating effect.

The infection tears through the population creating rabid packs of cold-blooded sadists. Ebony-eyed machines of indiscriminate rape, spiteful torture, and casual homicide.

A sweet young couple becomes separated and must navigate this raging ocean of brutality if they are to be reunited.

Director Rob Jabbaz, a native Canadian working out of Taiwan, has definitely had a fucks given bypass with this astoundingly gory apocalypse outing. Bursting with heart-stopping set pieces and jaw-dropping moments of the deepest depravity, it powerslides out of the blocks and doesn’t relent until it leaves you rocking in the corner.

The pace of this film is something to behold. Seriously, if slow burn entries like The VVitch, Hereditary, and The Wailing left you cold, then this is the wall of cinematic napalm to warm you up.

Almost every scene is born to carry a trigger warning, not least a train carriage attack that manages to usurp Hammer Girl in the subway slaughter stakes.

The Sadness is heavily influenced by the infamous Catagory III movies of yesteryear. Exploitative potboilers from Hong Kong with lurid titles like Raped By An Angel, Devil Fetus, and Womb Ghost. There is even a character named A.Wong, a clear reference to Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, the flamboyant star of Cat III classics Ebola Syndrome and Bunman: The untold Story.

Although these films ignored conventional boundaries, and pretty much any ethical accountability, they were often well crafted and acted with inventive and realistic effects. 

The same can definitely be said for The Sadness. The cavalcade of horrendous demises and relentless abuse is superbly realised with the camera only pulling away when things approach the furthest frontiers of obscenity. If you like your hardcore gore practical and pithy with fountains of grue then you are not going to walk away from this one disappointed.

Blessed with a committed and competent cast the acting is dynamic and believably hysterical. The infected remain perfectly sentient as they act out their dehumanised fantasies, and as such, they get to deliver some of the most shocking lines since Linda Blair handled a crucifix.

The cinematography from Jie-Li Bai is crisp and kinetic. He even finds time for some beautiful framing in the midst of a movie that often feels like an extrapolated version of the opening scene from 28 Weeks Later.

Another notable influence in play is that of the original Enfant terrible Gaspar Noé. If the fire extinguisher hommage is not obvious enough then check out the end credits title card.

In terms of social comment, The Sadness opts for some relatively conventional targets but gives them a hearty mauling all the same. Mobile phone culture, 3D gun printing, and latent misogyny all take a satirical beating.

The film is much more successful when it tackles the depressingly resonant trappings of a pandemic. Conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers. Inept government regimes and their lectern lecturers. The deconstruction of altruism and the fermentation of prolonged isolation.

The instant cult classic appellation is seldom more appropriate than when aimed at The Sadness. It is a vicious and unforgiving freight train of a flick. Perhaps more incendiary, both physically and verbally, than it needs to be.

How readily you gobble up its juicy coagulums of humanistic decay will speak volumes about your own levels of desensitisation and methodology of catharsis. I suspect therein lies the concept at the intellectual heart of this thunderous horror movie.

★★★★★

North American Premiere   Fantasia Film Festival  2021      Cinéma Impérial     

Sat August 21, 2021, 9:30 PM

  

Extreme Horror, Sci-Fi, Action | Taiwan | 2021 | 99 mins | Raven Banner Entertainment | Dir. Rob Jabbaz | Cast: Regina Lei, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Berant Zhu

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