Fantastic Fest Review: The Sadness

Hyperviolent Taiwanese horror-satire pulls all morality away

The Sadness

When The Walking Dead became a TV smash, every producer seemed to be looked around for horror comics to pull off the page. The running joke in graphic circles was that no one would ever, ever try to get Garth Ennis's hyperviolent Crossed on the screen. Canadian-Taiwanese neozombie blood bag The Sadness may be the closest anyone will ever come.

What defined Crossed was taboo-busting: an unknown infection removed any sense of morality from the infected. Creative cruelty is the name of the game, and that's shared with bloody abandon by The Sadness, a vicious descent into all forms of depravity.

Basically, you name it, it can and will be done to a human body. The savagery starts with an unprovoked knife attack on a Taipei commuter train that Kat (Regina Lei) witnesses. Blame the new variant of an unnamed virus, one that spreads like a worse-case scenario in the wake of an ongoing pandemic. But really blame the sinister motivations that lurk in the hearts of humans, malevolent wishes that suddenly are given gleeful freedom by the disease that seems to permanently disable the inner "no" button of those afflicted.

The sudden orgy of depravity - sexual, violent, scatological, necrophiliac, all depicted in gruesome detail - is presaged by the creepy interests of the unnamed businessman (Tzu-Chiang Wang), who was already sleazing up to Kat before the outbreak. Infected, he becomes the walking, slicing, sliming incarnation of selfish entitlement, the salaryman as the patriarchy personified, and it's Wang's smiling greediness that gives The Sadness is most disturbing and remorseless core. As Kat tries to reunite with her boyfriend, Jim (Berant Zhu), he's always over her shoulder, even as the camera flits around to the tide of grotesquerie that's sweeping over everything.

Yet The Sadness is never quite sure what kind of message it has. The bloody effects spurt and shred like mid-2000s Japanese splatter horror, with a hint of Sam Raimi silliness, as if writer/director Rob Jabbaz is afraid to embrace the bleak nihilism at the center of his script. Is it Tokyo Gore Police or Hard to be a God? By trying to be both, it ends up neither, a gory trip into the dark heart of humanity that relies on making the audience flinch rather than think.

The Sadness
US premiere
Wednesday, Sept. 29 4pm at Alamo Village, 7pm at Alamo South Lamar

Fantastic Fest 2021, Sept. 23-30. Tickets and info at Follow all our coverage at

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