We live in a world in which audiovisual production is more extensive and varied than ever. To the titles destined for cinemas we must add the infinity of productions —both in the form of feature films and series— destined for the increasingly numerous streaming platforms; and under this panorama in which saturation reigns, it seems more and more difficult to attract attention.
Without a renowned director or a sufficiently well-known cast, the only options for a film to attract the public and occupy the conversation on networks are to display quality and ingenuity well above average —and there there are cases like the excellent ‘El hoyo’ as an example—, or for bet fully on the morbid and controversy.
In case of ‘The Sadness’, still unpublished in our country, fits perfectly with this last approach. Canadian filmmaker Rob Jabbaz’s feature debut, produced in Taiwan, became one of the festival phenomenon of 2021 after passing through events such as Sitges or the Fantastic Fest, where he turned stalls —and stomachs— upside down with his provocative, irregular and hollow ultraviolent pandemic rampage.
hash on offer
The first and very successful bars of ‘The Sadness’ reminiscent of some of the most depraved works of what is known as Hong Kong’s “Category III” and to the orgies of homicidal and sexual excesses that were explicitly represented in delusions such as ‘Ebola Syndrome’, ‘Doctor Lamb’ or ‘Daughter of Darkness’; mining gold from a premise in which a virus turns the population into psychopaths without any kind of moral filter.
Starting from this approach, Jabbaz launches the story with admirable concisenessposing a basic but tremendously effective conflict that separates its protagonist couple in the midst of chaos, and spinning an equally simple survival plot but that is enriched by a commendable management of tension and suspense.
To this must be added a more than decent technical and formal invoice, which uses Jie-Li Bai’s photography to make the great star and main attraction of the function shine as it deserves. I am not referring to the actress Regina Lei, but to some practical effects that bombard the respectable with mutilations, murders and various barbarities seasoned with liters and liters of artificial hemoglobin.
But with all these cards on the table, the pulsations triggered due to the tension soon decrease progressively while the assembly deflates due to three main factors; being the first of them a narrative that turns from simplicity to reiterationwhich peppers its last section with an unnecessary dose of tedious oral presentation and which, ultimately, is only sustained by the succession of violent scenes.
This repetitive aspect ends up undermining the impact capacity of ‘The Sadness’. Starting an infected by melting their victim’s face with a deep fryer may seem optimal, but it leaves little room for crescendo; especially for a potential audience that is probably scared to death. If we add to this that it uses such stale resources to increase the “shock value” such as sexual violence —in 2022 it is a bit outdated—, and a tone that veers between sobriety and splatter more festivedisappointment ends up being inevitable.
Although ‘The Sadness’ makes an effort to disguise its status as an “impact film” with a veiled speech less sharp than necessary, it is still a sample of how festival hype and controversy can fuel a simply acceptable product. There is no doubt that it will find its audience if one day it is distributed in our lands -hopefully in its complete version-, but at this point in the film, I need something more than a gallery of rabble to stimulate me in a movie theater.