Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Review: The Sadness

  • Director: Rob Jabbaz
  • Writer: Rob Jabbaz
  • Stars: Regina Lei, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Brant Zhu


Imagine a story about a country dealing with a pandemic for a year and the citizens get restless, they become impatient and decide to go back to normal, whatever that means, and this is exactly when the virus mutates into something stronger and far worse. Unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine this because we are living it right now. As I type this, in the United States, the CDC estimates that the Delta Variant has caused over 90% of recent COVID-19 cases. I only hope that when I leave my house, fully masked and armed with hand sanitizer, that I do not encounter the kind of world that The Sadness presents. Screening at Fantasia Fest 2021, this is a zombie/plague movie that cuts way too close to home, is absolutely disgusting, shocking and all around amazing.

Writer/director Rob Jabbaz absolutely wows with his first feature length film. Set in Taiwan, The Sadness follows Kat and Jim as each of them try to survive a city erupted in violence after a viral mutation, to try and get back to one another. The day begins innocuously enough with some news reports and an interview with a scientist trying to warn the public that the virus is mutating and has become very dangerous. He says that, “To politicize a virus is a very serious mistake.” Jim watches this with mild concern, but then his next door neighbor tells him that the virus is a hoax: the government is using it to affect stock prices.

It only takes fifteen minutes for The Sadness to kick into high gear and it is not fucking around. A mundane morning in a cafe turns into a full on “fast zombie” lunch buffet: it is disgusting and amazing. Reminiscent of the zombies in 28 Days Later, this virus quickly affects people via bodily fluids and turns them into depraved, violent cannibal rapists.

While Jim escapes on his moped with an angry mob running after him, Kat is enjoying a book on the train when the man sitting next to her begins chatting her up and this is when Jabbaz lets the audience know that he is not only taking aim at armchair scientists who think they know more about virology than doctors, but he will also chime in on the Me Too movement as well: Jabbaz does a stand out job of showing what women go through on a regular basis while just trying to live their lives. Of course, Kat not only has to deal with a business man hitting on her, but she also has to contend with a train car that erupts into a blood bath of chaos when an infected man starts randomly stabbing people. Blood. Is. Everywhere. This scene is what you crave from a horror film: it is stressful, frenetic and gory. Jabbaz does a stellar job of balancing the manic scenes with moments of calm. During violent moments, the camera and score is as unsteady and keyed up as the characters, but in the non violent moments, the tracking shots are bright and easily hi-light the world around them.

While the gore and violence is anything but subdued, the critical eye on human behavior is a bit less obvious. Political leaders, law enforcement, people disagreeing about who they voted for, even the Man Flu, nothing escapes Jabbaz’s dark humor.

Unlike a lot of horror films, The Sadness does not rely on the general stupidity of people to propel the story. If anything, it’s the intelligence and strength of Jim and Kat that continues to keep them safe: small things like telling someone to put their phone on silent or taking your shoes off to make less noise while running, are refreshing things to see. The virus and it’s mutation is even explained, by an actual scientist, in a way that is completely logical and easy to follow. He explains that the virus is now affecting the limbic system in the brain, specifically the area that regulates aggression, and connecting it to the area that governs sex drive. This would be where I will caution viewers that the violence, rape and gore in this movie are all at an 11. No one is safe from violence in this film; not even infants. Consider yourself warned.

The Sadness is an all out sociopolitical horror commentary that delivers in spades. It absolutely pulls no punches, shoves everything in your face and just when you think you’ve had enough, there is still more. Regina Lei as Kat is the ultimate final girl and Berant Zhu as Jim is a swoon worthy horror hero. Jabbaz is the real deal in horror direction and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Played as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival

Lisa Fremont

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