Canadian director Rob Jabbaz has performed a fearless feat of daring with his new film, THE SADNESS. He has brought real stakes back to the Zombie Apocalypse with his first feature film made in Taiwan, during the pandemic, in just seven months. The zombies in the film are unlike any that you've seen before. They are sentient, and they don't want to eat you; they want to hurt you. They are in it for the enjoyment of making any human that they can capture suffer while they giggle. It's filled with fountains of gore, graphic ultra-violence, and mayhem of a type that I can't describe in a family magazine like Fango. No, seriously, I can't. But still, at its core, it is a film about love. Deploy all the trigger warnings because this is a film that I never thought would be brought to the screen and a filmmaker autodidact who has made a film of uncommon humanity and nerve-shredding fear.
How did you begin working in film?
I started off making my own cartoons. I made a video called Fiendish Funnies that got some attention. I won a jury prize at a film festival in Taiwan. On the basis of that, I got a job at a company making commercials. That's how I met David Barker, who introduced me to Jeff Huang, who financed The Sadness. When the pandemic happened, Huang said, 'I want to make a movie right now. So, write something, and we'll do it'. That's how we ended up making The Sadness in seven months.
You have a very surprising template for The Sadness. What is it?
The film that I looked to for inspiration in pacing is Pee Wee's Big Adventure directed by Tim Burton. The film introduces him in the beginning and then shows that he has a bike. The next thing is that he's going on this cross-country adventure where he's going to find his bike. The film is moving him into different locations. This is really great, because the movie sets up the set pieces. That's one thing about movies that I'm really sick and tired of. I'm going to keep bringing it up. This isn't even a movie that I dislike. I like this movie, but the alligator movie that came out a year or two ago.
Yes, that movie was really cool. But they kept pulling the emergency brake every so often to do this father-daughter thing where it's like 'watch me in my swimming classes.' They stop and talk about it and try to resolve their father-daughter problems. I was like, what the Hell? Let's get back to the alligators. If you're going to do this, it shouldn't be so stop/start. It should be more interwoven with what's going on.
You've talked about how you got this specific idea and that you didn't want to make the standard type of zombie film.
I was just trying to figure out a way to make this make this idea scary again, and how I did it was to make the zombies absolutely 100% aware of what they're doing. I really believe that the reason why zombies are so popular globally is these movies set things up so that it's okay to kill someone. The zombies don't have a mind or agency. The bad things that they do aren't actually their fault. Something else that I thought about was a documentary about people who have chimpanzees in their houses. The chimpanzees reach sexual maturity, and they start to get aggressive. The thing that makes them dangerous, more dangerous than like having a tiger in your house, is their intelligence. That in their primitive mind, they can understand that you're the one who's keeping them in captivity. I've talked ad nauseam about how I was inspired by Garth Ennis' Crossed comic book, but I was also inspired by The Screwfly Solution by Raccoona Sheldon and David Cronenberg's Shivers.
The actors in the film were great, what was it like working with them?
Berant Zhu is a very talented actor, I think that he's going to go really far. In-Ru Chen, the actress who played Molly, I told her; "your character is designed to make the audience hurt." Tzu-Chiang Wan, who played the businessman, he brought a dark god energy to the character with almost like a supernatural being. All the extras and the minor characters who played zombies, I told them, "act like a chimpanzee that is just railed a bunch of PCP." They knew exactly what to do. I should say that the majority of the people I worked with on the film, they were like that. They put all their cards on the table.
When I first heard about The Sadness, I thought, what does that mean? But once you watch it, people will really understand why that's the title.
I'm happy that you saw it. I think that a lot of people are getting it. If I called it The Madness, then it would be kind of corny. I guess it's the whole thing for me and maybe for you, too. The whole thing for me, the whole concept of the film is extremely tragic. It's just a heartbreaking kind of thing to see love turned into violence.
It is. I have noticed that when you watch a lot of zombie movies, it's kind of like playing a video game. The violence is treated as entertainment.
I think Brian De Palma said something about that. He said that violence should be shown for what it is. It shouldn't be clean; it should be ugly and disgusting and the most terrible thing ever.
I agree. You ended up editing the film, but you hadn't done that before either.
No. For me, if you want to be a writer, you write. If you want to be an editor, you watch movies. If you want to make movies, watch lots of movies. I was having drinks with some dudes here in Lisbon, some filmmakers, and we were talking about Uncut Gems and how much we loved it.
Then this DP, he said Uncut Gems is a horror movie. I said, "You're 100% right". I just want to say that if you have any inclination towards filmmaking, don't be limited by genre.
What you've said makes a whole lot of sense. I think people need to reach outside of their favorites and consume other types of film.
In my opinion, modern cinema sort of starts in the mid to late '70s. It's that classic, character-driven style and dialogue-driven films. If you like horror movies, watch The French Connection and watch William Friedkin's movies other than The Exorcist. His film To Live and Die in LA is maybe a precursor to something like Uncut Gems.
Do you have any projects in the works or ideas of what you are going to do next?
I have a lot of ideas, actually. But because I'm doing the festival thing, I'm not in a good space to be like writing. But prior to that, I had three screenplays going, all of which are horror, and then another idea that I want to do as a series that's more sci-fi.
Will there be a release for The Sadness in theatres or on streaming sometime soon?
Absolutely. We absolutely will make The Sadness available to the ravenous public. As soon as soon as possible.