Society breaks down as a rapidly mutating virus spreads through Taiwan in The Sadness, a film that combines a terrifying study of toxic masculinity with levels of cinematic gore unmatched in recent years.
On the surface, The Sadness is another pandemic-inspired horror movie. The specter of COVID hovers over The Sadness in the form of the Alvin virus, an airborne sickness that focuses on the limbic region of the brain. Once a host is infected, the connection in the brain between violence and sexual activity is destroyed. Morality disappears, as does any concern about proper public behavior. The human animal comes to the fore and the crowded city of Taipei becomes awash in ugliness and grue.
Jim (Berant Zhu), who has witnessed the violence caused by the virus firsthand, attempts to rescue his girlfriend, Kat (Regina Lei), from the infected. Kat, who is located miles away from Jim in the downtown area, has her own problems from the well-dressed enigma known only as the Businessman (Tzu-Chiang Wang). The Businessman has been obsessed with Kat, having seen her many times on the train. Once infected with the virus, the Businessman becomes hyperfocused on Kat, stalking her with inexorable stealthiness.
Written and directed by Rob Jabbaz, The Sadness explores the conspiracy theories concerning the upsurgence of
COVID the Alvin virus. It’s a political move sponsored by financiers that want to observe some widespread social experiment. The Alvin virus deniers surround the main characters, but not for long. Once the virus begins to spread and the body count begins to rise, all the deniers have become victims of the sickness. Expressions of that mentality may be the most lighthearted The Sadness ever gets, and those moments don’t last long.
It cannot be emphasized enough how violent The Sadness is. Fingers are severed from unwilling hands. Blood shoots from punctured arteries like fountains at a water park. It gets worse from there. Viewers with weak stomachs may not make it through the first twenty minutes before abandoning the film for safer territory. No one could blame them. The Sadness revels in its sickness. It enjoys how it feels to slip around in squeaky shoes in its own blood.
Although the prevalence of crimson ensures that The Sadness will find its audience among hardcore horror fans, director Jabbaz goes for something deeper than gore for gore’s sake. While there are women also infected with the Alvin virus, it is the men that draw the most attention, the most ire, and come across as the most disgusting.In an era of incels and nice guys, The Sadness paints a bloody portrait of males at their worst. Since the virus rids its hosts of all their inhibitions, the men in this film become increasingly ominous. All of the sick elements of patriarchal society are on full display in this movie, and the women in The Sadness take the brunt of the suffering.
The Businessman is one of the most frightening characters ever to appear in a scary movie. When the Businessman first makes a move on Kat during a train ride, she rebuffs him and accuses him of sexual harassment. The Businessman is astounded by her rejection, defending himself by saying he was “polite” to Kat. He spoke to her nicely, despite the fact that what he was saying was creepy. The Businessman blames society, social mores, everything but his own behavior. When he becomes infected, the Businessman is empowered to act upon his basest instincts. He is liberated, a predator in every sense of the word. The Businessman enjoys what he becomes, and it is his calm sense of insane joy that makes him a thing of nightmares.
The Sadness is a powerful film, with social commentary covered in more arterial spray than any three French New Wave of Horror films combined. If you can make it through the acts of grotesquery and unrelentingly grim story beats, then you’ll find a thought-provoking glimpse at a male-dominated society gone mad.
Let this review serve as your trigger warning. This movie is intense, harsh, and not designed to make you happy. If you can handle the insane level of violence, The Sadness is a must-see. At the very least, it’s a must-talk-about film. With multiple points to make and no answers to be found, there’s a lot going on underneath all that blood and guts.
Distributed by Raven Banner Entertainment, The Sadness is slated to play select Canadian theaters April 29 – 30 before premiering on the horror streaming service, Shudder, on May 12, 2022.