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Robert Jabbaz’ The Sadness

What makes zombies really scary

Before the release of The Sadness, there was a lot of hype about it’s degree of violence. To begin with—it is not as brutal as one would have expected after the buzz surrounding it, but the menace comes from a rather different aspect.

Written by


Sep 7, 2022

© watarusneighbour

First of all, the name “哭悲” (chinese name of The Sadness, pronounce Kū Bēi) is similar to the Taiwanese expletive “靠北” (Kào Bēi) pronunciation. It originally means crying for father’s death, today’s usage is roughly equivalent to something like “what the fuck”. So when I read the name, I sensed its typical taiwanese.

The director, although is Canadian, has lived in Taiwan for ten years and gives the actors a lot of communicative freedom. The lines are mostly very short and lived-in. I thought it was pretty good, the scenes and the actors’ performances were well illustrated and handled in a quite concise and powerful way. Overall, the story is rather thin and relatively simply structured.

Making a patterned zombie film is definitely not the director’s aim. What is most appealing is the setting of the movie—the virus infected people still retain their intelligence, when the malice in people’s hearts is infinitely magnified. Desire became the only drive, especially sexual desire as the destruction of other people’s bodies. At the beginning the neighbour bites off the protagonist’s finger, eats it and then spits it out to foreshadow that this is not the usual zombie flick. This is unexpected, but in a reasonable setting. The zombies are driven by their appetite for human flesh and blood in a primarily sexual dimension.

Among the seven deadly sins are pride, jealousy, rage, laziness, greed, overeating and lust. Needless to say, lust is displayed from beginning to end. And other evils are also shown, dissatisfaction and complaints about others will evolve into anger, the desire to destroy; love and protectiveness will also turn into perverted destruction. I had subsequently read the comic The Crossed by Garth Ennis, which offers almost the same premise as the film. Zombies driven by violent perversion that gradually takes over the entire population. It seems as if the director has used the material rather unsubtle, which becomes very clear in some scenes.

© Capelight Pictures

The disappearance of morality.

It goes without saying that the whole film is gory and challenges people’s boundaries. Always more shocking and frightening than zombies though, are the changes in human nature once conditions take a turn for the extreme.

This is where The Sadness comes in, taking the most evil fantasies within man out of the zombies. Far from the blunt undead of the Romero tradition, the scariest thing about these zombies is their humanity, or rather what horrible desires might lie within humans. This causes a terrorising atmosphere rarely experienced before in this genre, which makes the visual brutality all the more painful to watch.

By far the most terrifying character in the film is played by Tzu-Chiang Wang. The frightening aspect is not the sheer brutality with which he acts, but how human his perversion seems. The film plays with the idea that the virus eliminates all socially learned conventions and inhibitions and thus shows how far the fantasy of human perversion can go.

Besides its shocking brutality, special effects artist Victor Chang delivers the brutality in an extremely impressive and creative way. Despite the exaggerated violence, it still appears realistic and real. Considering the film takes itself so seriously, I still expected something more than just an admittedly creative exploitation film and find a lot of wasted potential to explore these human themes farther, which would have elevated the film to more than merely the brutal rollercoaster ride, it finally became.

Still, the uncomfortable atmosphere that is built up, the creative effects and especially the new approach to zombies, make it a standout in this genre.

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