Sometimes horror movies can rely on outrageous gore or shocking violence to compensate for a lack of anything otherwise frightening about the plot or possibly to cover up poor acting, but other times it can be used to effectively ramp up the terror. Making the audience feel like truly anything can happen can be a useful tool to get them on the edge of their seats. Taiwanese zombie flick The Sadness falls pretty firmly into the latter camp, piling on more and more gore to harrowing effect.
Jim (Berant Zhu) and Kat (Regina Lei) awaken one beautiful morning in their Taipei apartment. They have a mild quarrel about him having forgotten their tentative holiday plans, but seem to come out of it okay as he drops her off at work and then stops by a coffee shop for a drink. Newscasts in the background mention a spreading virus, that seems to be flu-like in nature but having mutated to also contain qualities found in rabies. While the scienctific community seems moderately alarmed, some commentators try to downplay the seriousness and others flat out debunk it as a hoax (sound familiar?). While Jim waits for his coffee, a disheveled and bloodied older woman shuffles into the store and attacks the first person who tries to speak to her, which in turn sets off a wave of violence amongst the patrons. Jim makes it out into the street and is chased away by a large group of crazed strangers.
In the meantime, Kat is on a subway where a creepy older gentleman is awkwardly attempting to flirt with her. After she rebuffs his advances and gives her seat to a different passenger, another man on the train suddenly snaps and begins stabbing people. The other riders manage to subdue him, but then things devolve into chaos much like in the coffeehouse, leaving Kat frantically trying to escape. Ultimately, our lead couple tries to reunite as the world around them crumbles with alarming quickness.
This movie is not for those with weak stomachs or delicate sensibilities. Once the violence kicks in it is brutal and relentless. Compound this with the nature of the virus inciting people’s most depraved urges and one winds up with what may be some of the most shocking and disturbing moments in horror cinema history. It is all used effectively though to keep viewers on the edge of their seats, constantly in fear of what lies around every corner and behind every door. Rob Jabbaz’s direction isn’t the flashiest, but he proves himself more than competent at building suspense and handling the often chaotic action.
While the zombie violence is frightening enough, what is truly chilling is the way the movie shows just how thin the thread is that holds “civilized” society together. These are not your ordinary zombies, with the virus leaving the infected’s memories, thought processes, and core personalities at least somewhat intact. Watching the citizens of a major metropolitan area descend into sadistic madness so quickly and easily is truly disturbing and can leave one feeling paranoid about their own neighbors. It is the sort of genuinely distressing nightmare that feels all too timely given the current state of the world. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. ★★★★
NOT RATED. CONTAINS STRONG GRAPHIC VIOLENCE THROUGHOUT INCLUDING SEXUAL ASSAULT, ABBERANT SEXUAL CONTENT, NUDITY, THEMATIC MATERIAL, AND STRONG LANGUAGE.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor