Directed, Written & Edited by: Rob Jabbez
Starring: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Tzu-Chiang Wang
There’s nothing I love more than a gorefest—the type of gorefests where there’s no end in sight for them. The blood and guts keep coming. The ripping of flesh gets louder, and there’s no way you can turn it off when it’s just getting better. Safe to say, the gorehound in me was unbelievably satisfied because The Sadness EASILY became one of my favorite films of 2021.
The first time I heard about The Sadness was the latest issue of Rue Morgue Magazine #201, where Rocco Thompson interviewed the director, a Canadian animator/director Rob Jabbaz, about the film. There felt like this hushed mum of what was in the film that couldn’t be said. The vibe of “You have to see it for yourself to believe it” was felt throughout the article. After watching it, I understood why. The Sadness is the wild west of zombie movies. There’s nothing, and I mean nothing, holding it back.
Jim (Berant Zhu) and Kat (Regina Lei) live in Taiwan as a mysterious illness spreads throughout the country. The infection, known as the Alvin Virus, lowers people’s inhibitions, making everyone who comes in contact with the virus a sadistic, merciless, and bloodthirsty version of themselves. Jim and Kat try to find a way back to each other. They have to do it before the virus takes them over, or they’re slaughtered by those who have already been infected.
Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, The Sadness earns the reputation of becoming a cult classic. It has everything you could want: blood, guts, gore, sex, and a global pandemic. The Sadness is a 100% timely piece of media that we will look back on to remember this time. Several pandemic movies have come out over the past two years, but this one does it the best.
We’re still currently living through a global pandemic that feels like it’s growing and spreading rapidly. There’s no sense of when it will be stopping, how it started, or if people are sick. We know that it’s spreading at an alarming rate. The Alvin Virus could easily be the CoronaVirus, and The Sadness could result from what happens when it’s not under control.
The Sadness deals with that in a clever but confusing way. How the virus is spread throughout the movie is unknown. I clocked in the time Kat and Jim left the house was 8:30; by the time he was on his way to find her, half the city was destroyed and burned down, and that was around 11:30. But, because it happens fast, there’s no real trace of WHAT causes it. It can honestly be several different things — blood, contact, or even breathing. However, the first symptom of the Alvin Virus is a single tear roll down the face. This is a superb way of telling who is infected and who isn’t when things start to slow down. You know shit is about to pop off very quickly afterward.
There’s a lot to say about the Alvin Virus. However, I want to single out the main feature of the Alvin Virus: what it made people do. When you’re jones’d up on the Alvin Virus, you go buttfuck bananas. I’m talking assault, murder, rape, taking a bomb and putting it in the president’s mouth, you know, just normal things.
These actions are what made the Alvin Virus fascinating and what made the movie, as a whole, work. Jabbez does the damn thing when it comes to layering out the different types of Alvin Virus-esque crimes being committed. There’s one scene where we’re following Jim, looking through the horrific damage left behind by people, but then the camera jumps to a man assaulting someone, and it blows you back to the perspective of, “This isn’t over, it’s only just begun.”
Jabbez is a masterful first-time director because he makes the violence so fucking intense and engrossing to watch. That shit goes from bad to worse, to downright despicable, and will give you a bit of anxiety for the main characters and everyone around them. But goddamn, is it ever a good time getting through it all.
While we’re talking about having a good time getting through it, we can’t forget who we’re getting to the endzone with. Berant Zhu and Regina Lei play the respective leads of the film with normalcy that turns deadly. The both of them as a couple seem like your ordinary everyday couple in love trying to figure shit out. You believe them and immediately like them together, but you know that won’t last for too long.
As good as he is in this role, Zhu wasn’t the leading man I expected in this role. Don’t get me wrong! He was very good! There were some scenes where I wanted him to give it a little bit more energy. Sometimes he looked lost, and even if his character was supposed to be, you could tell when the actor is as well. However, his final scene with Regina Lei shows what an actor he could be. That final performance from his was haunting and vibrant, calling to a Jake Gyllenhal equivalent of acting.
Regina Lei as Kat carries this film ON HER FUCKING BACK. Whenever she was on screen, I found myself sitting up straight and being terrified for her. She’s trapped inside of impossible situations, but Lei’s character keeps going. It helps that Lei’s character is so beautifully vulnerable. Every situation Kat is placed in within this movie is horrific to anyone, but it gets more horrifying for a woman. Her ending is the one that got me to the most out of everyone.
Also, I’d like to give a small shoutout to Tzu-Chiang Wang. He played a businessman who ends up slow crawling his way to try and assault and kill Kat. He’s so menacing and haunting in this film that it will make your skin crawl.
The Sadness reminds me of a mixture between Train to Busan meets Mayhem (2017, dir. Joe Lynch). There are these intense zombie moments like in Train to Busan but motivated by the horrific actions of the virus via Mayhem. It’s the best of both words that made me have to pause, take a step back, and dive right back in.
If you happen to catch The Sadness when it comes out, I can not recommend it enough. This extreme horror zombie movie is fast-paced, horrific, and bonkers and fuck, and as lovers of horror, that’s just how we like it.