THE SADNESS Review: Prepare Yourself For One Of The Most Relentlessly F*cked Up Films Ever Made

Rob Jabbaz’s controversial feature debut, The Sadness, is set to hit the Shudder streaming service this Thursday, and if you're wondering if its reputation is warranted, right this way!

This review was originally posted on FearHQ.com.

After garnering rave reviews - and quite a bit of notoriety - when it premiered at Fantasia Fest last summer, Rob Jabbaz’s feature debut, The Sadness, is set to premiere on the Shudder streaming service on May 12, and I can tell you without a hint of hyperbole that it really is one of the most twisted, shocking, depraved films ever made.

The story follows a young couple, played by Regina Lei (76 Horror Bookstore) and Berant Zhu (We Are Champions, How to Train Your Dragon), as they attempt to reunite in a city ravaged by a plague that turns its victims into deranged, bloodthirsty killers. As the mysterious virus spreads, more and more people begin to give in to their worst impulses, leaving a trail of blood, guts and gouged eyeballs in their wake.

I've been an avid horror fan for most of my life, and it takes a lot to shock me. I haven't been completely desensitized or anything (certain things will still disturb and distress me, depending on the context), but I've seen so much over the years, it's very rare that something will leave me genuinely aghast at what I'm witnessing.

The Sadness actually made me look away from the screen on more than one occasion. 

It's not just that the film is relentlessly violent and gruesome (and it is), it's more that the sadism and cruelty are taken to such extreme levels. As certain scenarios were playing out, I found myself thinking of the worst possible outcome, safe in the belief that they'd never actually go there - and they ended up taking things even further than I'd imagined. One moment, in particular, just left me wondering how the filmmakers even convinced the studio to entertain the idea of putting it in the movie, let alone got it past the country's ratings board (I won't go into detail; you'll know it when you see it). 

If all of this sounds more like an endurance test than a piece of entertainment, well, for some, that's exactly what it will be - but there is more to The Sadness than just violence for violence's sake. It's an expertly crafted film, for one. From Jie-Li Bai's cinematography, to the sound design, to the superb practical FX (seriously, give IF SFX Art Maker all the awards), you never get the feeling that Jabbaz's only concern is to turn stomachs. He even manages to cram in some social commentary and a couple of heartfelt moments of human tenderness... even if they are swiftly followed by more atrocities.

Also - and this may seem hard to believe - the film doesn't really feel overly exploitative, particularly in its depictions of sexual violence. Don't get me wrong, Jabbaz is clearly aiming to push a few buttons here, but most of the more upsetting acts are hinted at rather than explicitly shown, and the camera does (mercifully) cut away every once in a while.

The performances are also excellent, with Lei and Zhu giving stellar turns as a couple we really hope to see make it through this nightmare in one piece. The movie doesn't have one main villain, as such, but the "Businessman" Kat encounters on the subway comes closest, and actor Tzu-Chiang Wang is bloody terrifying in the role. Even setting aside the horrific things he does with an axe and an umbrella (don't ask), he delivers some of the most startlingly debased dialogue you are ever likely to hear (or read, unless you happen to speak Mandarin).

The Sadness is sure to test the resolve of even the most hardened of gore-hounds, and those of a nervous disposition should avoid it like the plague of the title. In some ways, it's almost difficult to recommend to anyone given the images that will no doubt be burned on to my retinas for the next few weeks (at least), but if you think you're ready to experience one of the most relentlessly f*cked up films ever made, it's well worth checking out. 

four-star-review – Py Korry Means By Golly!

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