Review by Sean Boelman
Making a horror movie about a pandemic during the COVID-19 pandemic seems like something that could go very wrong very quickly, but Rob Jabbaz’s The Sadness is made in surprisingly good taste. A genuinely scary and viscerally impactful film, the fact that this rings so true right now is absolutely depressing.
The movie follows a couple who struggle to reunite after a once thought-to-be benign pandemic starts turning people infected by it into ruthless killing machines. One could make the argument that it is a tad on the distasteful side to make such a violent and vile film that is so evidently influenced by what we are going through now, but this angry message is exactly what we need to hear right now.
The ultimate message of the movie is that it is not okay for us to let our guards down, which is an extremely urgent wake-up call. It’s a film that is clearly meant to be shocking, and it works, which will probably help it deliver its message to audiences around the world much more effectively.
From the first action sequence that happens around the twenty-minute mark, the movie keeps going and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. From there, it’s about eighty minutes of non-stop violence and mayhem, and it’s probably one of the most gruesome films in the genre in recent memory.
However, the thing that allows this movie to work is that there is a genuine connection to the characters. Although the romance storyline might be basic, it gives the audience something to root for in an emotional sense. Even more surprising, though, is that the supporting characters are also very compelling and likable.
Both Berant Zhu and Regina Lei do a great job in their roles. The fact that they are able to have so much chemistry together despite sharing so few scenes is extremely impressive. And Tzu-Chiang Wang, who plays the movie’s most despicable villain, is absolutely terrifying in his role in the best way possible.
Jabbaz cuts between the two parallel storylines in a way that really heightens suspense. Just as we think one lover has gotten to safety, we go back to the other who is in danger, and this cycle continues, building up the viewer’s anxiety. This, combined with some absolutely savage effects, will keep the audience on their toes.
The Sadness is a disgusting film in every sense of the word, but that is exactly what it is meant to be. It’s one of the best movies to have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic as of yet, and it would be futile for any genre filmmaker to try to top it.
The Sadness screened at the 2021 Locarno Film Festival, which runs August 4-14.