For those who don’t find your simple, basic, everyday, zombie apocalypse hardcore enough to wet your gore whistle and profoundly disturb you, if you were to scan different aspects of media, you will undoubtedly find instances where chewing on flesh and wolfing down brains are only the tip of the iceberg.
From James Herbert’s novel, The Fog, to David Cronenberg’s Shivers, some tales switch out standard zombie-ism in favour of people getting infected with utter madness which sees them perform shocking acts of sexual deviancy and sadistic violence on their prey and arguably one of the most disturbing examples of this is Avatar Press’ jaw dropping comic series Crossed that saw writers such as Garth Ennis and Alan Moore produce some of the most unsettling stories I’ve read in years. For someone to tackle such a deranged concept on film these days that encompasses even half the depravity this infamous comic does would surely be unthinkable.
Meanwhile, in Taiwan…
Young couple Jim and Kat are preparing for yet another day while struggling to communicate their plans as they prepare to head out to work, but after dropping Kat off at the train station, Jim heads to a cafe to grab a quick meal. However, a distinct feeling of dread hangs in the air as not only did the couple spot a bloody crime scene on their morning journey, but news reports are seeing officials yell over each other about the rise of the flu-like “Alvin” virus with some insisting that the politicising of the illness may suggest it doesn’t even exist at all.
Well, bad news, because Alivin is very real and it’s going to cause a lot more nuisance than its chipmunk namesake when it mutates to make its carriers go absolutely bugshit insane and start inflicting all manner of head-spinning acts of sordid violence on other, unsuspecting members of the public. Jim gets a front row seat to what Alvin can really do when an old lady calmly dumps a load of chip fat onto a cook and claws of his melting face while another member of the infected inflicts random horrors on those too slow to avoid him. As bad as that is, Kat gets a free ticket to the horrors of Alvin while cooped up on the train on the way to work which starts unsettlingly enough when an older businessness man picks this particular day to work up the courage to finally talk to her. Several erupting arteries and an umbrella in the eye later and Kat and a wounded girl flee the train once it mercifully reaches the next station, but the find themselves stalked by the now-infected businessman who wants to act out all of his most depraved, carnal desires on her. While both Jim and Kat struggle to stay in touch via their phones, they try to reunite in this living hell where a virus has given every one infected free reign to act out the darkest, most hideous urges that lurk in their mind.
As grim as anything else you’re likely to see this year, The Sadness, despite it’s fondness for making a mess, is actually a refreshing cleanser to all the recent examples of “elevated horror” we’ve been seeing lately. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the subgenre personally; but even I have to admit that I needed a slight break from genre filmmakers rubbing their subtext directly into my eye sockets in favour of a more plot-first, message later type style. Now, while that doesn’t mean that Canadian filmmaker Rob Jabbaz – in his feature debut, unbelievably – isn’t adverse to some timely commentary on the world following the COVID-19 pandemic (unmasked assailants literally killing masked people is as an on the nose metaphor as you can get), but he insists on keeping his eyes firmly on the prize when it comes to furnishing an audience with a boatload of incredibly graphic and stunningly blunt imagery that takes a gleeful “more is more” approach to screen violence.
Making the Infected from Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later seem like they’ve all gone to anger management classes, the Alvin carriers literally unleash all their pent up, perverse desires onto screaming onlookers in ways that are as stylishly shot as they are utterly jaw-dropping. A scene where a train carriage turns into a charnal house is as harrowing as the attack scene in The Hills Have Eyes as blood flows out of stab wounds like they’re the lift doors in the Overlook hotel and once the opening violence has been established, we then get to settle in and witness the ghastly kinks these creatures now possess. Rape, necrophelia, masochism, sadism, gore soaked orgies and, most stunningly of all, an honest to god skullfucking, are all laid out for us to recoil to and yet weirdly it’s all portrayed with such deadly earnestness that it never feel gratuitous – which is actually fucking bizarre because it blatantly is. Still, it works because even though the main characters of Jim and Kat feel slightly thinly sketched, the fate they’ll experience if they don’t keep their wits about them is so overwhelmingly nasty that you can’t help but root for them as they barely side-step one atrocity after the next.
The effects are mind blowing – quite literally in one case where one poor sap is force fed a live grenade – and Jabbaz keeps the energy high and the tension levels taint, which is imperative when stopping The Sadness lapsing into mindless depression, which, with its relentlessly joyless outlook on life, is a very real trap it could have fallen into.
While more of a spiritual adaptation to the Crossed comic than a more faithful whack – thank the stars Jabbaz didn’t try harder, I don’t think the world is ready for semen laced bullets and horse penis cudgel just yet – it dies manage to scoop up the nihilistic baton left by such filmmakers as Romero and Cronenberg and not only run with it, but jam it somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine.
Needlessly to say that those with more delicate constitutions should vehemently stay away (do I have to say skull fucking again here, people?), but those who can handle the darkness will spot other social threads that prove that The Sadness isn’t just an off putting gore-sprayer as other aspects such as lack of faith in leaders and incel attitudes toward women are exercised by people who aren’t even infected yet are all tackled throughout a fine spray of viscera.
Definitely (and defiantly) not everybody’s cup of tea, The Sadness is still a highly disturbing movie that acts as an impressive debut while it ramps up zombie conventions to an excessive degree while still exposing a brain among all the split intestines and mutilated genitals.