The Sadness (2021)
May 12, 2022 10:04 AM - Subscribe

A young couple in Taipei is pushed to the limits of sanity as they attempt to be reunited amid the chaos of a pandemic outbreak. The streets erupt into violence and depravity, as those infected are driven to enact the most cruel and ghastly things imaginable.

Trigger warnings abound in this festival favorite by first-time director Rob Jabbaz. Sitting at 90% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Currently streaming in the US on Shudder.

Paste Magazine:
"Teeming with death, denial and damning governmental incompetence, The Sadness reflects the continued unraveling of our society since COVID first sent us into lockdown."
"...much of your response to this movie will depend on how you feel about the characters’ defining behavior. I also feel needlessly over-protective about The Sadness. Watching it reminded me of watching horror movies when I was a teenager, when horror violence felt like a shocking protest against humanity’s degenerative complacence. Jabbaz’s movie isn’t exactly deep, but it does effectively channel his free-floating anxieties in ways both excessive and appropriately nasty."

Bloody Disgusting:
"Jabbaz's confident, daring debut operates on pure, unbridled fury. It's a vicious anthem that keeps you in its grip, forces you to stare into the abyss, and dares you to look away."

Dolores Quintana:
"The Sadness is so much more than your average zombie horror film. It's a film on the level of Train To Busan and some of my other favorites of the genre that say so much about humanity."
posted by DirtyOldTown (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
ADVISORY: I have not watched a frame of this yet, but it's been the talk of the horror festival circuit for some time and I have heard it discussed at length. So let me say this right at the top of the page...

If you are the kind of person who occasionally watches horror, but "not if it's too violent" I would like to encourage you to nope the fuck out of this one with extreme haste. The infected in this movie kill, eat, rape, torture, and mutilate.

That said, if you are the kind of person who believes that, even in the case of horrific violence, Gene Siskel's dictum that "A movie is not about what it is about; it is about how it is about it" holds true, I am told that this pays off extremely well and for all of its gruesome viciousness, plays off more like a rollicking zombie film ride with social commentary like Dawn of the Dead than it does the eyeball-singing misery of say, the films of the New French Extremity wave (Martyrs, Frontieres, etc.)

Anyway, you've been warned. I'm going to watch this ASAP. See you on the other side.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:09 AM on May 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

I have seen this movie. It is ROUGH and the comparison to Martyrs is apt because it's not just extremely violent and gory but also bleak. The comparison to Busan is completely off. Busan is, at the end, a hopeful film. The Sadness? It reminded me of the Divide another film, like Martyrs, that was like an endurance test.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:40 PM on May 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the warnings. I think I will give this one a pass. Sounds like a real puppy kicker; I don't like to pour such things on my brain so much anymore.
posted by fleacircus at 5:28 PM on May 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

I just finished watching it and the trigger warnings are earned, but I didn't feel it had much in common with Martyrs, et al. at all. Those movies show individual acts of sadism in detail and make you stay with them, refuse to let you look away. Those movies want you to suffer.

This movie was more like Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later with the violence/awfulness dialed up. It doesn't linger or revel in the way torture porn does, not at all. But it doesn't slow down or give you a break, either, and it ramps way the fuck up from what current standards of gore are. This movie doesn't want to traumatize you. It wants you and the people you're watching it with to yell "HOLY FUCK!"

That said, I understand that as a cis male I have the luxury of treating the sexual violence as part of the fabric rather than an echo of something awful I might have to live with. That said, the sexual violence, at least in the version I saw, was either implied/threatened/shown obliquely. The actually shown/depicted violence was on par with the Evil Dead remake from 2013. More in quantity, but not worse in severity.

I totally get the comparison to Busan not because of the outlook, but in terms of relentlessness, tempered by having an underlying message.

I will not watch torture porn. I've seen one film from the New French Extremity stuff. I read the plot description on Wikipedia for A Serbian Film and it ruined several days of my life. But this was fucked up and fun in a transgressive way.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:04 PM on May 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Things I learned from the Q&A:
-Jabbaz was an animator, graffiti artist, and documentarian who talked his way into this when he met an angel investor who wanted to make a movie in Taipei since the pandemic was much more under control there
-Garth Ennis's comic Crossed was a big influence
-they were able to get the sound designer from Midsommar because almost nothing was in production due to COVID and the person needed the work
-the composer got his start doing K-Pop remixes
-it's called "The Sadness" because streaming tear ducts were supposed to be the tell that a person was infected... and he literally forgot to implement that consistently but kept the title anyway because he was used to it
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:32 PM on May 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

I found watching new french extreme far easier than this. And the idea that this isn't that close to torture porn because it doesn't linger?! So many scenes linger. And I didn't consider it at all fun. To say the sexual violence was implied...I'm not even sure how to respond to that because it was pretty explicit to me. That may be because I'm not just a woman but a disabled and chronically ill one who feels that kind of vulnerability. And I would say this far exceeds Evil Dead remake which I found extremely easy to watch.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:58 PM on May 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Well... take the eye scene, for instance. That was horrible and mean. But as soon as the action was about to start, the camera panned up so that we couldn't see any of the, uh, relevant bits. We heard a scream for about one second, maybe two while we saw the businessman's face, then they cut away.

I mean, compare that to someone shown literally being skinned alive in Martyrs...
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:23 AM on May 13, 2022

This is also a movie that may be highly dependent on the context in which you see it. I saw it while logged in to the Zoom event via Rue Morgue, with people chatting as it went. The audience was hosted by women and (very notably) almost cleanly 50/50 in gender. I can imagine that if I'd seen it alone, it might not have played the way it did.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:28 AM on May 13, 2022

I might not have checked this out, but the women in film criticism I follow on Letterboxd and via podcasts have recommended it across the board to this point. Louise Blain and Becky Darke were particularly effusive.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:14 AM on May 13, 2022

I am not going to watch it again to time that particular scene but it goes on far longer than a second or two. If it had lasted as long as a thrust or two, I wouldn't say it lingers, but it went on far longer than that. I am not saying it's a bad movie at all, but I do think viewers need to know what they are getting into ( I went in with no warning but also watched as part of a watch party).

I also pointed out that I am a disabled woman, which, again, may be why I responded to a extremely violent film set mainly in a hospital the way I do. Again not saying it's a bad film at all, but not at all seeing the fun side of it.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:01 AM on May 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Thanks for explaining the bit about the tears. What a thing for the director to forget! I know the dialogue at the end explains it as well, but failed to connect it to anything. It would have added gravity to the movie if we had found out earlier that the zombies were still conscious of the horror of their actions, but unable to stop. Very dark. Are there any other zombie movies with that device?

(Also: Dr. Exposition was lazy script writing.)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:45 AM on May 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

I hear you, miss-lapin, for sure. And I do not mean to discount your experience. There are certainly some others who would feel the same. And maybe we saw different edits, it being a festival film and all. I also wouldn't dream I know what the disabled/hospital angle feels like. I am sorry you had a bad time with this one.

The deciding factor here for many people will be how they draw the line between what the film shows in-frame and what it indicates is happening out-of-frame. The zombie-like violence in this movie and the mob attacks are in-frame, but the SA it depicts is only ever shown obliquely/out-of-frame/in an unclear flash. Sexual assault, even when indicated rather than explicitly shown, might well be more traumatic than non-SA stuff shown in-frame for some, and that is fair. But for me, that degree of distance made this film miles more tolerable than something like Martyrs, which showed me specific images I cannot unsee.

This is going to be a tricky one for some folks, and I appreciate your perspective as a counterpoint. I definitely don't want to come off as That Guy Who Tells Women This Movie's SA Scenes Are Fine, Just Fine. So to that end, I'll shut up now and note that all of the glowing reviews linked in the sidebar are written by women. I'll let them make the other side case that this works within the movie's sociopolitical arguments and that, while a fucking lot, this can still register as a gleefully transgressive thrill ride rather than a mean-spirited slog, depending. That will mean more coming from those women than it does coming from me anyway.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:48 AM on May 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is a Crossed movie! They made a movie out of Crossed. I expected to be delighted and I was, although I fully understand why not everyone would be (I did not watch this movie with my partner).

I feel like the Evil Dead comparison is apt. There are scenes early on that I found extremely hair-raising, in which the film took its premise very seriously; basically, every scene that had the infected acting evilly but rationally. I found that very disquieting. (The Crossed comics, at their best, are unsettling in this way.) As the film went on, though, the violence became so preposterous that it felt a little like an NC-17 Looney Tunes production. The violence itself feels realistic in the sense that it doesn't defy the laws of physics, but it's so over the top that I couldn't take the movie very seriously after a while. That is not a criticism. I enjoy a lot of the French Extremity movies, but I enjoy Sam Raimi, pre-LotR Peter Jackson, and Return of the Living Dead, too.

I do not think this film is saying anything remotely important, and as such one may argue that it doesn't have the right to deal with subjects as weighted with significance as sexual assault. I think this is a solid argument. However, the film does shy away from presenting rape in anything like a titillating matter, which is more than I can say for some productions.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:56 PM on May 14, 2022

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