The Sadness (2021) [Fantasia Film Festival 2021]

Director/Writer Rob Jabbaz’s “The Sadness” is easily the starkest and most depressing commentary on humanity that’s been produced in the last ten years. Humanity during the COVID era (?) has revealed a lot about itself during a pandemic that’s almost proven apocalyptic, and Jabbaz jumps on true events to deliver a message to his audience. Sadly, the message isn’t hopeful. Or optimistic. And no, it’s not at all cynical. It’s truth. It’s a clear cut exploration of civilization, and how easy it is (and can be) for everyone within to turn on each other, and descend in to absolute chaos, sadism, and delirium.

“The Sadness” is set during what seems like a long quarantine as a pandemic has overtaken Taiwan. Although the government is anxious to get back to normal, scientists are warning about a new variant called the Alvin Virus that’s similar to rabies, sadly falling on deaf ears thanks to talking heads on the internet. Young couple Jim and Kat (co-stars Berant Zhu and Regina) awaken ready to take on their day, and as Kat travels to work on the train, Jim is faced with the first gore soaked, horrifying explosion of the Alvin virus. As he struggles to look for a way to help Kat and bring her home, the pair experience parallel confrontations with the new strain of the virus.

As everyone devolves in to murderous, raping, cannibalistic, sadistic, merciless maniacs, Kat and Jim try to figure out how to make sense of something that has spread like wildfire. One of the biggest aspects of “The Sadness” is that there clearly is no rhyme or reason for the Alvin virus or its effects. Jabbaz takes apparent inspiration from films like “Rabid,” “The Crazies,” and “28 Days Later” not really examining humanity’s fall, but putting a mirror up to our face and show us his easily it takes for us to descend in to madness. Much of the brilliance of “The Sadness” is the ambiguity of the Alvin virus and how much of it is at play. Perhaps the Alvin virus is very much causing its victims to become murderous, depraved psychopaths, or perhaps it’s one gigantic case of hysteria.

Perhaps the people that have bore witness to the effects of the virus have somewhat sub-consciously played along, giving in to their inner depravities. The Alvin virus doesn’t so much seem to work by infecting its victims, so much as it appeals to the victims’ deepest depravities. While much of “The Sadness” depicts sheer acts of disgusting gore and torture, the recurring message embedded within the narrative of “The Sadness” is: does it, or will it, take that much for humanity to descend in to sheer blood soaked madness? When resources are scant, and all sense of law and order are gone, would we give in and shed all façade of morality? Would we struggle to maintain some sense of order?

Would it even be worth it to sustain an illusion of civility when the world is circling down the drain? Within all the blood, and gore, and dismemberment, and nauseating oozing of bodily fluids is a very volatile and relevant statement about the world, and how easily functions that keep us orderly and sane can break down in the face of a menace that fully conveys how primal and savage we are. “The Sadness” might polarize many, but you can’t deny that director Rob Jabbaz delivers a mesmerizing warning that should be heeded.

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs every year, and this year runs virtually from August 5th until August 25th.