My Piece: The Sadness (2021)

Crossed is a graphic novel series initially written by Garth Ennis, the acclaimed writer behind The Boys, Preacher and more. Ennis only wrote the first volume of the series, leaving any future works to be written and illustrated by rotating teams of creative artists, but the foundation that he established is a strong and effective one.

The premise of Crossed is an apocalyptic version of Earth that has been razed by a viral infection, similar to that of zombies or the Crazies, but instead turning humans into hyper-sadistic, raped-crazed maniacs. Transmitted through bodily fluids, people quickly develop a plus-shaped rash across their face (Hence crossed.) They retain their sapience, yet succumb to ultraviolent tendencies, including mutilation and torture, self-mutilation, overpowering sexual arousal to the point of raping corpses, wounds and animals, etc.

Crossed is easily the most horrific thing I have read in my life, so much so that I had to step back and collect myself not far into my first reading of the initial volume. Over time, I became very fascinated with the world within Crossed, be it with the journeys and conflicts of the survivors, or the occasional “super-crossed” that displays characteristics unique to their breed. The Crossed Apocalypse is potentially the worst kind of apocalypse imaginable, a world where suicide is truly an option well worth weighing against any bleak prospect of survival.

Naturally, when I finished the series, I held the impression that it could absolutely never be adapted to film or television, lest it be some kind of crowd-funded fan project. It’s far too violent, far too gruesome, just blatantly too horrific to work on the silver screen.

Then I discovered the trailer for The Sadness.

The Sadness is a Taiwanese horror film written and directed by a Canadian filmmaker named Rob Jabbaz, serving as his directorial debut. It was released in Taiwan theatrically on January 22nd of 2021, only hitting the markets of other countries within the first few months of 2022. The premise of the Sadness is, essentially, the premise of Crossed: A young couple living in Taiwan fight to survive and reunite in the midst of a viral and homicidal pandemic.

The trailer alone had me immediately invested, and frankly in disbelief at the fact that someone in the film industry was actually more or less introducing the world of Crossed to the screen. Jabbaz openly acknowledged Crossed as an inspiration behind the film, to boot. I waited months and months for the Sadness to reach distribution beyond Taiwan, frequently checking the sites and accounts of the company that had acquired those rights, etc. Just earlier this week I finally got myself a copy of the film, and I made sure to set aside time on my days off from work to give it a good viewing.

The focus of the film is of course the violence and excessive gore. These effects are very well done, and God knows they’re effective. The amount of times my mouth just hung open in a shocked grin was pretty damn considerable; There are a multitude of scenes that are just plain brutal. Sadness delivers consistently on its promises. Some might even call it excessive, but personally, I think that hammering in the brutality of this world keeps you present and conscious of its horrors. The effect of Crossed and Sadness is what the infection makes people do. This world is violence.

What I will say is that with the violence being the focus, it does leave the writing and editing to be a bit lacking. There are a few pretty blatant political references and obvious allusions to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are scenes where dialogue doesn’t quite feel authentic, and the actions and reactions of characters are notably unrealistic. Two women casually exchange words while an infected man engages in a mass stabbing on their train, blood literally everywhere. The same women subsequently trying to escape another infected man just wait and watch him kill a helpful bystander, where only then do they run for their lives. Just a few instances where things felt a bit distracting.

Editing-wise, there are a few shots that feel rather artificial for the sake of graphic effects. Not to mention scenes with cuts that are far too rapid, where I think a singular shot would serve much better. The editing isn’t egregious, it did feel relatively distracting to me at times, but I’d say each to their own.

The score is surprisingly pleasant and fitting, I didn’t expect it at all but I caught myself noticing how well the tracks they included suited the tone of absolute despair. Not to mention it seems pretty selective, it didn’t feel annoying or distracting to me at any point.

Cinematography ranges from mediocre to pretty good, there aren’t any particular shots that stand out to me in either regard. Ultimately just not particularly noticeable, not too professional and not too indie.

Performances are pretty damn good, the male protagonist didn’t fully deliver until the climax of the film in my opinion, but the majority of others and especially the infected were convincing enough to me. The chaotic energy the infected portray really drives home how fucked this world is.

Overall, the Sadness was what I needed it to be. It’s deliciously twisted, and it genuinely felt incredibly close to the horror presented in Crossed. It’s a pretty impressive debut for Jabbaz as well, I might be following his future career. Especially if he felt inclined to expand the universe he’s developed with the film. The Sadness is for people who want to be taken to the levels it offers, its ultraviolence, its abundance of gore, hypersexual assault. It may well be the most graphic and disturbing film I’ve seen, and honestly, I respect it for just letting loose like it does.

For my love of Crossed alone, and the helluva ride that the Sadness takes me on, it’s definitely staying in my library.

That’s my piece.

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