review by Diablo Joe
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “mayhem” is, “in Anglo-American law, offense against the person in which the offender violently deprives his victim of a member of his body, thus making him less able to defend himself. The disabling of an arm, hand, finger, leg, foot, or eye are examples of mayhem.”
With viruses as scary in real life as anything in horror, if you’re going to do a viral-zombie film, you may be compelled to reference political exploitation, conspiracy theories, and declining social mores. If you’re making “The Sadness,” a relentlessly over-the-top film from Taiwan, you also literally drench it in blood and gore and fill it with some of the most insane, Grand Guignol-level violence and boundary-shattering bedlam the genre has seen in a long time.
The plot of “The Sadness” is simple: Two lovers, separated during a viral outbreak that turns ordinary people into maniacal animals, struggle to survive and reunite against all odds. It’s about as basic a zombie flick story as you can get, and yet, first-time director Rob Jabbaz, a Canadian filmmaker working in Taiwan, has given audiences an unholy breath of fresh air. Even the most jaded horror fan will have to sit up and take note of the gift Jabbaz has given them, albeit one wrapped up in shredded human flesh and covered in bodily fluids of all varieties.
There are many reasons why “The Sadness” stands out in a sea of zombie-themed films. While it is undoubtedly a part of that horror sub-genre, its pathology makes it more aligned with “The Crazies” or “28 Days Later” than “Dawn of the Dead.” But even more than those two former titles, “The Sadness” adds a twisted new layer. The infected in “The Sadness” retain their ability to communicate via speech. And not just mumbling a few words like “Braiiiins!” With shining black eyes and rictus grins, they gloat and taunt their victims, describing with relish what they intend to do and how much they enjoy doing it. The result is gloriously unsettling.
Worse still, the infected aren’t content with just inflicting just ordinary violence. Along with rampant sadism, this virus has also unleashed the infected’s unbridled libidos. Jabbaz has added sexual lasciviousness into the mix, and if you think the idea of randy viral-zombies sounds more humorous than frightening, you’d be wrong. A crazed businessman relentlessly torments our heroine in a horrifyingly protracted pursuit. It’s a setpiece that encapsulates the extremes to which Jabbaz is willing to take “The Sadness” and its audience.
And that is really the key to the film’s success. “The Sadness” is willing to go there fully, and it’s willing to with unrepentant abandon and even gleefulness. Much like the grotesque excess of late underground comix great S. Clay Wilson, no holds are barred, and nothing is too sacred. It’s a fearlessness that gives the film unfettered freedom to be both utterly repellent and thoroughly entertaining.
That “The Sadness” is such an entertaining horror film saves it from becoming needlessly bleak. Jabbaz’s outlook here is highly cynical, and the film takes some digs at government, conspiracy theorists, self-absorbed scientists, and society in general. Although few escape the filmmaker’s satirical critique, “The Sadness” is never preachy or pedantic. There is far too much guts and gore for that.
For lovers of extreme horror or anyone who feels that the zombie genre has gone stale, “The Sadness” will be a treat. Rob Jabbaz has crafted a film every bit as savage and relentless as his virus-infected horde. It’s a rollercoaster of a movie, and though the film is called “The Sadness,” the ticket you bought for this ride reads “mayhem.”
This devil of a reviewer gives “The Sadness” 4 out of 5 imps.
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