The most mean spirited movie to ever come out.
I’d like to apologize ahead of time for what is likely going to be a confusingly toned review. This week I watched The Sadness on Shudder with my ex-podcast co-host, because for some reason he still shows up from time to time to watch movies with me. The choice wasn’t premeditated, I had actually planned on showing another movie that got pulled from streaming a few days prior and was trying to find something to put on. Then The Sadness appeared. A Taiwanese zombie film? Sign me up. What a mistake-a to make-a.
It’s been a couple of hours since the film ended and I still feel kinda sick to my stomach. Not sick in the sense that the gore or violence in the film was too much for my brain to handle and I found it too gross, but that kind of sickness you feel when you’re sitting at home after the funeral for a close friend or family member who was brutally murdered and you’re digesting the senseless cruelty of it all. I’ve seen plenty of films in my time that were depressing, dark, miserable, and bleak, but The Sadness has an extra extraness to it. It is downright mean spirited.
The Sadness is a 2021 Taiwanese horror movie directed by Canadian filmmaker Rob Jabbaz in his directorial debut. It stars people you’ve never heard of, trust me, during a pandemic of the Alvin virus that quickly runs out of control when the virus starts turning people into zombies. And not just any kind of zombies, but intelligent and sadistic serial killer zombies. The main characters Jim and Kat, yeah the lead characters of a Taiwanese horror movie are named Jim and Kat, are on a mission to find one another again as the zombie panic spreads through the country and claims countless lives.
It’s worth noting that the movie screened in January 2021, meaning it was likely shot in mid-late 2020 during the height height of the Covid pandemic. The imagery is everywhere, from the masks to the conspiracy YouTubers, the crazy militaristic response of the Chinese government. Even before the zombie apocalypse really kicks off everyone just acts like complete assholes to one another. The film gives you the fake-out that it’s going to be a goofy over the top gore fest when the first dude gets stabbed in the neck and gallons of blood explode out of him. It’s a gore fest, but it’s not goofy. Not by any stretch.
What sets The Sadness apart from other zombie movies and what truly cements it as the most mean spirited film are the zombies. George Romero’s zombies were slow and relentless but mindless like rabid animals. 28 Days Later had infected that were fast and relatively more intelligent but still mindless to an extent. Return of the Living Dead’s zombies always terrified me as a kid because they were smart, they could articulate and retained memories, and their actions very much intentional. The Sadness zombies aren’t just intelligent, they are cruel and they are happy about it. The virus turns its victims into sadists, meaning all they want is to inflict horrible pain on people and they’re going to enjoy every moment of it.
The zombies in this movie aren’t about eating brains or flesh, they’re about inflicting brutal torture. A Romero zombie will eat your brains. The zombies in this movie will beat you nearly to death with a metal baseball bat, nearly because they’re intentionally keeping you alive, and then probably brutally sodomize you with the same bat because it’s funny to them. There’s a lot of brutal rape scenes in this movie. The zombies in 28 Days Later might tear you limb from limb, but they won’t taunt you beforehand about how they’re going to enjoy chopping your legs off and then raping you to death. Olga Karlatos in Zombi 2 got her eye pulled into a jagged piece of wood, but was never under threat of the zombie trying to literally skull fuck her eye hole.
Every scene in the movie has you wondering what horrible things the zombies will do next.
And it’d be something different if it was a shot-on-video crappy indie film, but it’s a very well made movie. The cinematography is tight, the soundtrack is fantastic, the lighting and effects from the CG to the prosthetics are gruesome and very well done. It would hit different if this was a film along the lines of Bingo Hell with its goofy premise and ridiculous characters and low-budget sets and effects. But it’s not, it’s a really well made movie. And that’s part of why it hits so different.
Would I recommend The Sadness? I don’t think I could in good conscious be the catalyst that says “hey go see this movie.” If you like brutal, mean, miserable films that are going to leave you drained of all emotion and needing a shower, then this is going to be right up your alley. I can’t say I “enjoyed” it because the film was goddamn miserable and just an hour and a half of watching innocent people suffer horrible cruelty. If Robert Berdella was still alive he’d probably post about this film being his favorite foreign porno. There’s a bit involving the President of China that I am shocked got released, but I’ll tease that for you to watch yourself.
This movie isn’t appropriate for anyone. Watch it on Shudder.