Friday, 13 May 2022

What I watched for Friday The 13th - 'The Sadness' (2021), a free association to a madness not that far away


**SLIGHT SPOILERS, nowhere near as many as usual, as that would ruin the effect for you if you haven't seen it.  So ...some spoilers...***

Blank face. 

Ok.  I was meaning to watch a triple bill for Friday the 13th, but this was the only one of the three I had planned that I could get hold of for today, and to be honest, it's enough all by itself: it's concentrated horror.  'Gruelling' the way people first described The Evil Dead [1981] as, all those years ago, and I remember it being when I first saw it.

Premise: it's an infected film, not a zombie film. Taiwanese made, set in Taipei. There's a pandemic people are not taking that seriously globally, as its been going on a long while. Within a very very short space of time, the virus mutates to have elements of rabies in it.  People are crazed if infected.  This is what happens in what feels like less than one day with a focus on two main characters, boyfriend Jim and girlfriend Kat. They get seperated and try to get back to each other. There's a major third, Molly, and fourth character, Creepy Businessman on Train, but they appear later. That's the plot, slight, simple, a vehicle.

This isn't so much a review of the film, as what it made me think about while I was watching it and immediately after.  Yes: I was thought provoked, my favourite kind of horror (after a bogstandard slasher, that is). So I won't be talking about the debut Canadian director (whoa dude, well done), the politics of the film (ah, I will, but not in depth), the amazing special effects team, the borrowing from the 'Crossed' comicbook saga.  Or that all the actors were very good indeed.  None of that, really as such. So, off we go...

I haven’t seen anything so utterly theatrically bloodsoaked since Ichi The Killer [2001]. This was…it really felt like you could see how people were nothing but their random bad thoughts acted out: ‘if I hold your hand, if I squeezed it, how long till your bones pop – could I pull your hand right off your wrist, or would I need a saw?’ That doesn't happen in the film, but it so could have and worse things do (the teenage boys and their coach scene). They aren’t just random thoughts, they are then immediately acted on.  And the worse and more taboo the thought is, the worse the action, the more you have to do it, to satisfy your obsession, single-minded focus with fulfilling your every wish. That is what the infection does to you.

This is a film about how angry we all are, under the surface, all the time.  And how sad. Hence the title.  It’s massively nihilist – all the main characters die (that's not really spoilering you), and with the virulence and quick onset of the violence virus, I can’t see how anyone would survive long, in the whole world.  Also – there are some places in the film where you can’t tell the difference between the crazed Id people, and the non-infected (Subway Worker had me confused twice). The heroine Kat is shot at the end [a la Night of the Living Dead the original], but has she just turned, or did they just shoot an immune person they could have made a vaccine from who was having a bit of a breakdown because her boyfriend Jim wanted to slice her up…and he loves her so much he would really enjoy it

The infected are all happy, they are doing whatever they want.  They smile and laugh, with black depthless reflective eyes. They aren’t zombies, once they are down, they are down. They talk, they reason, in a crazy violent person way. They are lost and found at the same time. In a place of total violence saturated madness, which is a happy place for them. They are insane, and the film I think, is trying to tell us that we all have a person like that inside. And, you know, they should stay there.

That there’s no truth, there isn’t allowed to be anymore – there’s only politics: the mad doctor, and the President and his army men showed that. This film is a short route to everything you keep a lid on, and what happens if everyone lets it out. The levels of misogyny men have; the levels of violence and fear we all have: all that resentment and anger and prejudice and wanting revenge. Creepy Businessman on Train – one of the main characters, a most excellent creation of what scares me about all those things. The endless hate and woman-fearing anger he spews are almost numbing after a while. All the infected men end up like that; Creepy Businessman just has a bit more wits left about him so he lasts a bit longer than most.

It Is Dark. And occasionally blackly funny.

And for all the violence and blood it does show – there is a surfeit of gore and brain bits and electronic saws, barbed wire, torture, rape, necrophilia, an eye socket event [no, way worse than Fulci in it’s second act] and more – there’s plenty that’s not shown but only implied [the second act].  Of course by then, you can imagine it all, as the film has helped you along with that; and as the mad doctor says: the infected have no lack of imagination; they just now have no impulse control whatsoever.  And did he turn very late, was he turned already or was he so cold as to already be a killer when poor Kat, the heroine, finds him? I think the latter.

Callbacks to many other films, notably Cronenberg’s Rabid (1976) with the tube scene; and  his Scanners (1981) with the President scene.  The whole film has a Romero's The Crazies (1973) vibe in places. I’ve been suspecting for a very long while that horror is one of the truest things we have, as an art form, because it shows us a/the horrible truth underneath things, and how to survive it – or not.  It’s why I watch it. But it rarely lies to us.  Horror is viscerally truthful. This film tells a definite truth about how people can be when others are just objects and their suffering as lesser creatures than you is the goal. And it gave no solutions, as I don’t think we’ve thought of any yet, for this moment in history. Things can go very wrong, very bad, very quickly, and sometimes what you might do then doesn’t even matter, except to you; because the wrong things are so big and so widespread and you're so isolated you can't stop them. 

It's a very paranoid film.  Other people are the enemy, at any time.

The only thing to do is to create beauty in the face of destruction, I think. And in the case of the universe of this film: get to somewhere blockadeable, defensible, have a lot of weaponry and water supplies. And then…you probably wouldn’t have to wait too long till everyone was infected and killed each other for fun.  Then…then…??? Then?

No one in the film gets that far.  Maybe the helicopter people at the end (Dawn of the Dead [1980] echoes), but I doubt they'll last either.

Perhaps the ultimate message of the film is listen to the scientists – as they were trying to say what was going wrong right at the beginning of the film and no one was listening [‘this virus is a hoax’; 'a lockdown would harm the economy'].  Listen to the science, listen to the experts in whatever field.  Hear truth and actual facts when you hear them, don’t layer it up with politics and confusion.  If there’s a disaster: pandemic, climate change, and it’s going to get bad very quick – listen to people who know about these things and take suggestions.  Sod election year, the economy etc.  All this is in the film, I’m not pulling it out of my free associating arse, here.

This film is what would happen if we all listened to the sudden flashed bad pictures in our head, or the occasional thoughts of ‘I want to cheese grate your face, you are SO annoying’ that I’m going to go out on a limb and say we all get, if we’re honest. Mostly, they are so over the top as to be funny, and they dispel tension.  In this film, people think them, then do them and find that funny. Its very prescient of the darkness in parts of the world, the fear, the dread of it coming closer, the contrast between me safe here, typing away on a sunny spring day, and  - flash – somewhere on the other side of the world, or the next street, where someone is cowering in terror at what someone they love or have never met is doing to them, right now.

I think this film just shows us the dark that's around the corner, anywhere. 

Don’t hide from it, keep a damn eye on it; and then make something good to counteract it. What else is there to do?


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