The Sadness [2021]: ‘Locarno’ Review – An Interesting Gore Fest that Never Takes Off

It would be too straightforward to brand ‘The Sadness’ as a zombie film. Despite the lack of official word, the film seems to be a re-imagining of Joe Lynch’s 2017 cult-classic ‘Mayhem’. Comparatively, the latter has a lot more work to do due to the larger-scale violence than the former. But instead of the “Red Eye” virus, Rob Jabbaz’s cinematic populace is infected with the Alvin virus, hitherto having only cold-like symptoms. Once relaxations from curbs are enforced to woo voters before the elections, the virus assumes a dangerous face.

Set in Taiwan, the film follows a young couple, Kat and Jim, separated on the fateful day when the outbreak takes a virulent and violent shape. The city quickly descends into chaos as the infected operationalize their now uninhibited shenanigans. The two try to find a way back to each other, as the chances of that happening turn ominous by the second. The film’s concept holds on well in the early parts. The intrigue with a fresh story and premise is intact for the first twenty minutes but that is about it.

The gore genre, as I like to call it, has seen an unusual uptick in the volume of films coming out. The challenge for many films in this category is to negate the overwhelming bearing that the aesthetic has on plot and narration. Integrating the gore into the fabric of the story is what filmmakers fail to take across the Rubicon. Jabbaz tries to circumvent fusing narrative consistency with his choice of representation of violence. His efforts to make the film about dying love between Kat and Jim or something more than just the visceral visuals are far and in between.


The self-awareness to glorify the gore instead of unnecessarily forcing moments out of the script is commendable. More often than not, filmmakers get too attached to the idea of quenching the thirst to be respectful to the artform. This results in compromising their style and predilections to certain techniques. Someone like Zack Snyder has never let this urge get the best of him and Jabbaz largely remains stout.

The conception of a war-ravaged Taiwan is haunting. Just this year, Snyder and co. created a similar portrait of Los Angeles some years into the future after a zombie-like outbreak with heavy CGI work. Sans the technical witchcraft, Jabbaz relies more on creating isolated sets. He goes old-school in carving out the violence-ridden and blood-soaked streets.

Related to ‘The Sadness’: Get The Hell Out [2020] ‘TIFF’ Review – Taiwanese Zombie Political Satire Is A Bonkers Thrillride

Kat’s side of the story that starts in the metro is probably more refined than Jim’s in this regard. Because seeing a schoolgirl get blinded in one eye with an umbrella by a middle-aged predator is almost always more fun. But to be honest, Kat does get the majority of screen time. It is through her we get to the root cause of the changed behavior of the people. ‘Mayhem’ does this at the start of the film; ‘The Sadness’ at the end.  The explanation goes over your head and is not something of great significance either. Something to connect the dots, I guess.

Like the creatures in Army of the Dead, infected people in The Sadness are not delirious, but, in the words of the scientist, overcome with desire. This is probably the most unique aspect of how they hunt people down. The awakening of their sexual desire due to the alembic unlocking makes the environment more gnarly and uncomfortable. But again, the same as ‘Mayhem’. Regina (Kat) and Tzu-Chiang Wang (the man who chases Kat) deliver impactful performances. Especially Tzu, who is menacing and frightening in his manhunt specifically for Kat. Seeing more of him probably would have added a bit more bite, which seemed to be lacking otherwise. The chase scenes in the metro and the hospital ward are truly the highlight of the film.

‘The Sadness’ is stylish and will please fans of the gore genre that has taken new suitors in flocks in recent times. Some of the truly disgusting scenes also evoke laughter in their sheer absurdity. It does not solidly add to the genre as Jabba would have expected. However, it provides something different that is at least watchable.

If you have to pick between ‘Mayhem’ and ‘The Sadness’, go with the former. For those of you who have already watched it, skipping this one won’t see you missing a lot.


‘The Sadness’ played at 74th Locarno Film Festival

Arnav Srivastav

Self-effacing and self-absorbed. College at RGNUL. A Cùle forever. Driven, ambitious, and "I hate most people". Oh, and I love movies if that wasn't obvious.