No ‘zombie’ film is created equal. Truth is, the reason why the zombie sub genre has survived this long to begin with is due to the influx of unique re-interpretations on the same base-level lore. The premise is almost always the same, but the execution is what ultimately keeps the trend alive. We all know the drill: an infection, a spread, and a handful of susceptible archetypes awaiting their potential demise. Admittedly, the best zombie films are the flicks that attempt to capitalise on the current political climate; subdued commentaries that infuse horror and sharp screenwriting in a holy amalgamation of the best of two worlds. It’s the precise reason why we’re continuing to rewatch and study the films of George A. Romero to this very day. Without either ingredients, a film is practically doomed to fail. Hence why I mentioned at the start, that no zombie film is created equal. A film of the zombie genre is in & of itself almost always somewhat based on the current political climate, where filmmakers tend to use the landscape as a tool to provoke their susceptible viewer.
But what happens when — after 18 months of pandemic routine — a zombie film is finally released that attempts to capitalise on the current COVID-19 crisis with blood-splattered depravity? What you get is The Sadness, a horror movie completely shot in Taiwan that takes a rather questionable approach to its ‘zombie’ text. Instead of the traditional flesh-eating brain-dead creatures one would usually expect, director Rob Jabbaz replaces these seemingly mindless acts of violence with a far more sinister force. The ‘zombies’ in The Sadness are self-aware monsters — creatures who pillage and commit acts of brutal bloodshed and sexual violence. Attempting to create an elaborate metaphor on the “revealing of one’s own true colours” and social attitudes during the current pandemic timeframe, Jabbaz’ exploitation feature quickly runs out of steam and political bite after its first opening act.
After an impressive mutation montage revealing its blood-red tinted title card, Jabbaz opens his film with a rudimentary setup. Two young attractive lovers are separated during the uprising of a virus outbreak, where glimmers of information regarding infection rates are shared in small expositional dumps. A pretty substandard introduction, only for The Sadness to eventually rely on neither creative wit or insight — but rather the clutch of meaningless gore. Once the supporting characters are introduced and their ignorance towards local science studies & upcoming election campaigns is shared amongst the two lead protagonists, The Sadness quickly turns into an electrifying bloodbath. It’s as if the film had a pre-established checklist, but refused to further examine its own setups and payoffs beyond the extremities of cruel violence. There’s an engaging sociological theme present within The Sadness, that is only further abused and battered in the face of desensitised conventionality.
At a certain point, the violence no-longer becomes squeamish. Viewers are bound to become desensitised to the point where the film’s irresponsible plethora of needless shock value becomes useless by its own design. Fatalities become fallacies, in an empty cringe-worthy braindead horror with barely enough substantial weight nor political potency worth giving an actual damn about.
The Sadness screened at this year’s Locarno Film Festival in the Fuori concorso competition. The film is currently seeking international distribution.