Fantasia Festival: The Sadness (2021)

Director: Rob Jabbaz

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Starring: Regina Lei, Berant Zhu, Tzu-Chiang Wang

Listed on Fantasia Festival's website is a prominent sentence regarding The Sadness: "Fantasia rarely gives trigger warnings, but this film warrants all of them. Proceed with caution." Ample warning's deserved for any viewers, as Rob Jabbaz holds nothing back for his brutal feature debut.

Beginning in a frighteningly familiar way, the story sees a rapidly-spreading pandemic grown out of proportion due to government mishandling and dismissals it's a hoax. Matters worsen as the virus mutates to showcase nightmarish symptoms - the infected are driven to commit the most terrible acts, including murder, rape, torture, and mutilation.

Building towards the violence, the tension feels palpable as various utensils and items are shown, hinting at their violent potential. Once the frightful scenes begin, the nastiness doesn't stop as these bone-snapping, finger-slicing, and face-peeling acts are viscerally brought alive. The violent actions of the infected are contrasted by the wide grin on their faces, the disturbing meanings beneath them evident in this sea of chaos. The sadistic glee they take in vicious brutality is unsettling, bringing to mind Murphy's execution in 1987's Robocop.

Grounding the story are Kat and Jim (Regina Lei & Berant Zhu), a couple whose initial holiday plans are scuppered by a work opportunity. As they try surviving in a decaying world to reach each other, it's a relationship easy to care about as their shared love is evident. While Jim feels like a driving force, Kat seems to be the opposite - a victim of cruel circumstances who can only run away and wait to be saved. Trailing after her is a businessman responsible for an uncomfortable train encounter, whose infected state worsens his entitlement as he gives chase with an axe and horrific intentions.

Kat's role is a symptom of a larger issue, where the women's roles feel limited to being under threat of sexual assault. After a point, the proceedings seem focused on constantly one-upping itself, and watching brutal abuse continually trying to be outdone becomes tiring. Where these elements would thrive with a message behind their reasoning, much of it feels inserted for the sake of being shocking. As third-act explanations resemble unnecessary overload, what remains is less than the sum of its parts.

The Sadness made its North American Premiere at the Fantasia Festival 2021