In this modern age, where the global pandemic shows inconsistent signs of slowing down, revving up, then slowing down again, artists of all mediums have reached an expanding renaissance of creativity, especially in horror. So far we’ve seen quite a few projects that used the last two years as inspiration, as well as commentative reflection, gazing back or presently at the very state of the people, government, and just how much has irrevocably changed in this way of life…or how much has simply gotten worse.
With entries here and there that sparked audiences interest, there’s only been a few of considerable merit or excellence so far. One feature that truly hit its mark on the changes and terror of modern times was the minimalistic spooker Host (2020) which used statewide lockdowns and an internet zoom call as a setting to deliver ingenious scares on a shoe-string budget. Another film that hit the mark a bit too well, was the rather humorous yet darkly depressing Don’t Look Up (2021). A satirical, but devilishly accurate depiction of events that took place during the pandemic in the united states, told under the guise of a doomsday asteroid heading towards Earth. (Though some viewers and critics have said the plot is an allegory on climate change and global warming as well) Either way, highly recommend both if you haven’t checked them out yet.
Now, coming from overseas where horror is always uninhibited, we have another entry on the opposite end of this growing commentary. A disgustingly gruesome incubus the likes of which hasn’t been seen in quite some time. The Sadness (2021) is a depraved, mean-spirited, nasty, merciless, and extreme experience that is exponentially better than it has any right to be. An overflowing horror extravaganza that reminded this schmoe of the good ol’ days when first exploring the wider world of foreign horror flicks and their uncompromising savagery. Good freaking times. And thanks to this being the directional debut of canadian director Rob Jabbaz, it’s a fresh film so memorable it won the award for Best Film at the Fantasia International Film Festival. One that’ll no doubt win over the damaged hearts and dark minds of hardcore horrorhounds and inquisitive viewers wondering what the fuss is about. Needless to say, all the hype, praises, and even harsh criticisms on its graphic content are well warranted. Implicitly.
As the story goes, in Taipei, Taiwan, young couple Jim and Kat (Berant Zhu and Regina Lei) start the morning off like any other, having a mild argument about their busy schedules before going to their respective jobs for the day. Unfortunately, reports start going over the news of a potential outbreak of a flu-like infection called the “Alvin Virus.” The public argue over the whole situation being a hoax and a government plot, while doctors and scientists urge for a nationwide quarantine to prevent its spread, even though they also speculate the virus could mutate into a far more dangerous contagion. Unfortunately it’s too little too late because before the day can even get started, citizens in the city start contracting the illness in rapid fashion. And what does the virus do? Well, in layman’s terms, it turns people into unconquerably violent, demented, homicidal maniacs who excite and thrive over committing heinous and repulsive acts on the non-infected, and even each other. And as the infection sweeps across the unsuspecting city and countryside, Jim and Kat have to survive the unyielding slaughter and get back to each other before they’re literally and figuratively engulfed by the infected. A tale of death, destruction, sadism, plenty of blood and fluids ensues.
First off, as pacing goes, the film takes a few minutes to set up the story and our characters but then in record time the carnage and chaos begins…and does NOT let up until the final scene. Inbetween that relative start and finish, a viewer is subjected to a diehard vision that rocks the core, tantalizes, entrances, disgusts, and consumes completely. I won’t go into too many spoilery details here but needless to say it must be seen to be believed. Even by foreign horror standards this baby is supremely full-throttle and unforgiving. On the masses and especially its characters. Nightmare isn’t even the appropriate word. Maybe just simply Hell. Hell on earth. Yeah, that’s more like it.
On the technical aspect of the feature, one can definitely appreciate Jabbaz, the cast, and crew’s unwavering devotion and fearless execution of this story. From the obscene amount of practical/special effects by IF SFX Art Maker to the groovy score by TZECHAR to the solid cinematography by Jie-Li Bai. It’s a testament to their abilities, talent, and dedication towards crafting something monstrously memorable in a sub-genre that’s seen it all and done it all. While most would categorize this as a “zombie” film, it’s not that much of a stretch to surmise that the starving undead have nothing on these infected. Yikes.
Does it have the sort of commentary that’s always associated with these types of films? That and then some. In a way, you can’t even call this heavy handed, more like “Hey, we saw how crazy the united states acted during this pandemic. Let’s make a film about it and just take it to its normal/abnormal extent.” In a time of lockdowns, civil unrest, uncertainty, and paranoia that grips our society, this film insightfully and ravenously taps into that fear and calamity, effectively utilizing it to make this endeavor as gripping as it is repugnant and isolating.
Bottom line, this is a doozy of an experience. Bar none. And as much as I can recommend this film, I have to state for anyone reading this review who hasn’t seen it to be warned. This is NOT for the squeamish, easily offended, or faint of heart. It’s batshit insanity of the highest order. It’s another grim and fantastic surprise from this tumultuous era, and an indomitably harsh but gracious lesson that staying home and succumbing to the mundane during these trying times wasn’t THAT bad. Especially when the alternative can bring something dangerous right through your front door. This sad state of affiars is destined to become a hardcore cult classic. Mark my words. In the meantime, check it out if you’re feeling bold. And catch the madness. It’s an absorbing, desolate, and maliciously layered piece of bleak, pulsy, and enigmatic filmmaking. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Review written by Marcus Wilturner