The Sadness review – unapologetically yucky gorefest turns into pandemic allegory

Inspired by the Crossed comic book series, this enigmatically titled gorefest directed by Rob Jabbaz is perhaps the bleakest cinematic response yet to the pandemic. As a mysterious virus descends upon an overcrowded Taipei filled with crammed apartments and packed subway cars, the infected morph into rabid monsters who are slaves to their basest instincts. Sweeping through the city like a crimson wave, gruesome acts of violence – including stabbings, sexual assaults and cannibalism – are made even more horrifying by their sheer randomness. The dam of civilisation is broken, and the darkness of humanity oozes through the cracks like a festering wound.

In the age of “elevated horror” where the roots of dread often function as a metaphor for intangibles – such as emotional trauma – or social issues, it is refreshing when terror takes on a more immediate, visceral form, like someone thrusting the tip of an umbrella into an eye socket. There is a loose narrative thread here as a pair of young lovers struggle to communicate with each other amid the carnage, though their tragic separation serves more as an excuse for the film to revel in increasingly sadistic set pieces with astonishing inventiveness.

Unencumbered by a need to explicitly spell out any overarching message (a noble aspiration that nevertheless dampens many modern horror films) The Sadness accentuates gore’s tactile yuckiness, utilising practical effects in a fashion that recalls retro exploitation flicks. A castration sequence sees bits of flesh visibly flying about the screen, a stylistic flourish that is at once tongue-in-cheek and genuinely revolting. The recurring dependence on sexual violence as a shock tactic is, however, a desensitising misstep. Nevertheless the assured command of style situates Jabbaz as an impressive new voice in horror cinema.

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