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Interview: Director Rob Jabbaz talks “The Sadness” Ahead of Fantasia Film Festival Premiere

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Having been selected for numerous festivals including Fantasia, Locarno and Fantastic Festival, The Sadness is the latest extremely violent Taiwanese horror film. The film sees a virus spontaneously mutate giving rise to a mind-altering plague causing the streets to erupt into violence as those infected are driven to enact the most cruel and ghastly things they can think of. The age of civility is no more. There is only “The Sadness”. We were lucky enough to talk to the film’s writer/director/editor Rob Jabbaz about his process making the film during the pandemic.


How does it feel to have your first feature film being selected for big festivals like Fantasia, Locarno and FrightFest?

At the risk of sounding pompous, it seemed pretty obvious to me. I’m very critical of my own work and I think the film is really good. When I made The Sadness, I was really uncompromising and just running on pure willpower. Anytime I ran into an obstacle of people trying to tone something down or make something less hard, I just had to bulldoze over them. And I really stressed myself out. I didn’t realise that I was getting so stressed until after it was all over. I was sleeping 16 hours a day for a couple weeks; I was just so tired. I was like, why am I so tired? And then it obviously dawned on me, like, oh, it’s because you’ve just been stressing yourself out for six weeks. Not necessarily physically, but just mentally and emotionally too.

“This is gonna make people shit their fucking pants!”

When I was editing it, I thought, this is awesome, this is working exactly the way that I wanted. When I finished the first cut of the film, I felt really strongly about it like this is gonna make people shit their fucking pants. And then once I found Raven Banner as our distributor and seeing real horror people appreciate the film as opposed to just the casual horror audience like the Taiwanese horror audience and them realising what I had done, it was awesome. And then at that point, when they said that they wanted to do a festival run with it, what other movies got made during the pandemic? So I knew even just by default I would have at least one of the top 5 horror movies of 2021. So that’s part of what informs me to say it didn’t surprise me that we got into Fantasia and Fantastic Fest. Locarno did surprise me; it was really nice to see it get picked up by arthouse festival like that. That was the one that was really flattering.

 

How did the idea for the film come about?

I was working as a staff writer for this entertainment company, writing scripts that may or may not get made. This was before the pandemic when being able to work from home was cool and attractive at the time. But then when the pandemic happened, my boss was like, okay, Hollywood’s closed, we can make a movie right now and we won’t have any competition but we need to release it soon. And then he says it has to be a virus or zombie movie. I thought I don’t want to write a zombie movie, that’s boring, it’s all been done to death, what’s left to say with that? So I started thinking about ways to push the envelope without pushing the small budget. And I thought, what if we make them really cruel and really sadistic. They’re sadists, they take pleasure in harming other people. This made me think of a comic from years ago called Crossed. I took a look at those comics and I was like, this is cool, but this isn’t quite right because these characters are still being treated like zombies. They’re not talking enough, they’re not expressing themselves enough. So I tried to give myself memorable villains to work with and some ideas, but what you need is that one auxiliary idea connects it all together.

It really was just based around creating a lot of good gore gags and very painful effects and set pieces and stringing them all together. I’ve watched a lot of horror movies and I know where I can cut the fat. And I know where I could give a second helping. I really just thought let’s give the audience all the good stuff and keep the story enough there so that we know what needs to happen next. But I don’t want the story to trip over itself. Because there’s nothing worse than in a horror movie when you just you halt everything and then all of a sudden there’s an explanation and it’s about this and that. Show me someone getting their fucking lungs ripped out, show me something cool. Or show me something I’ve never seen before. Don’t just show me these stupid obvious emotional beats. If you want to show me an emotional beat, do it in a way that I’ve never seen before. And that’s what I tried to do with the very end of the film.

“I told them I want to always have at least 15 gallons of blood on hand every day so that we never run out”

Given your background in VFX and animation was there ever a tendency to rely on VFX or did you try and do things practically?

You use the right tool for the right task and The Sadness was all gore. I’ve yet to really see CG create realistic effects. It just doesn’t feel painful enough to me. What that boils down to is it needs to be messy, and you need to see the mess go all over the place and get stuck in hair. I knew right from the beginning that it needed to be practical effects. There are a couple of things where we use some VFX and there’s a bit of an amalgam of VFX and practical effects. You’re just trying to be practical and figuring out what works best and what is the cheapest, but at the same time not at the expense of it looking awesome.

I was pushed against trying to do like a lot of this stuff practically. One of the people who was working for me had a lot of experience and he was said you shouldn’t do practical effects, because maybe the blood isn’t going to work the way that you want it to and if one of those things doesn’t work properly, it’s going to take a long time to reset. Every day when we make a film like this you’re just shovelling money into a furnace essentially so you have to be efficient with time. I was just like, what the fuck are you talking about? Have you ever heard of editing? We just shoot everything. We do every gore gag as an insert so the audience can see it. It’s not like I want these things happening in the background. I want the camera in there so you can see it. I’m not trying to do some bullshit like The Revenant where the cameras are doing everything in one take. It’s distracting, I don’t like that shit. Ironically, I think that a long take for an action scene is less cinematic then if it’s edited because editing is part of cinema. I don’t want to do any of this all in one take. I want to do this like a movie. I told them one thing you need to remember, I don’t want to run out of blood. I want to always have at least 15 gallons of blood on hand every day so that we never run out.

How did you end up directing The Sadness? Was it something you always wanted to do?

I wrote the script, and I gave it to the guy. He said he liked it and then he went to go look for a director and no one wanted to do it for the price that we had. And then he came to me and said, ‘Hey, Rob, do you want to try doing it?’ And I said, ‘Oh, God, I don’t know.’ We hear all the horror stories of directing a film and then getting fucked with the whole time, people telling you not to do this, or people telling you that you’ve got to do it this way. You end up stressing yourself out every single day and then in the 11th hour, they give it to some fucking shithead to do the edit and you don’t get final cut. I said I can do this film but there’s only two ways I can do it. The first way is I can phone the whole thing in, and I’ll show up to the job, I’ll facilitate the production and I won’t give a fuck about it but I’ll get it done. Or I can make it my life and I can take it to heart as much as one can take something to heart. But in order to do this, you need to let me do it exactly the way that I want and you need to give me final cut. He said I don’t want you to phone it in, I want to give you number two.

Once I had that, I felt happy about it. I’ve done shorts and I like telling stories and I can create worlds so I I’ve always wanted to do a feature. I liked this script and I like the energy of the film and how it works as it is, but if you were to read the screenplay of The Sadness, it’s not the best screenplay to be honest. It’s decent, but it’s not showcasing my ability as a writer as much. I knew that if anyone was going to do it properly, it was going to be me. And I’m looking forward to The Sadness heralding the beginning of my feature filmmaking career. I look at some of my favourite filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and I just think ‘how does he do that?’. That’s what I aspire to be like. I don’t know if that’s really possible for me but it’s about having an aspiration and working towards that.

 

When you were making The Sadness did you ever have any second thoughts about how extreme and violent you were making it?

For me that kind of just seemed like fair play. There’s a particular tone to it, maybe my film feels more violent because it’s happening to innocent people, and it’s presented in a more realistic way. Whenever you’re making a horror movie you’re trying to tap into people’s fears at the time. And at the time, the spread of the virus actually wasn’t really a big concern in Taiwan. People weren’t wearing masks, people were out at bars dancing with no masks and the rest of the world was fucked. You guys were all inside, depressed, and meanwhile Taiwan is having outdoor music festivals and stuff. The virus aspect of the film was not really that much of a big deal.

For me, what was kind of a big deal was tapping into a fear that is very specifically Taiwanese and East Asian, this fear of unprovoked violence. There’s this idea that you just mind your own business and you do your job, work hard, and don’t get involved in someone else’s affairs if you don’t have to. It’s like a fundamental foundation for morality in East Asian culture from my perspective at least. The idea of just a random act of violence, like somebody on the train, just pulling out a knife and starting to stab people. And then you’re like, holy shit, and next thing you know, a guy is stabbing a pregnant woman with a set of keys and then another guy is biting off a guy’s Achilles tendon and some guy’s stabbing a girl in the face with an umbrella. It’s just completely senseless. There’s no political motivation, there’s no reason or logic to any of it. It’s just mindless, senseless violence. I was trying to tap into that fear of unprovoked violence. And I think that a lot of people here in Taiwan might have thought that crossed the line. But you know, that’s the price we pay for the freedom of artistic expression.

I’ve been spoiled. I wrote it, directed it, edited and had final cut, I’m spoiled. I’m like when the Coen brothers did Blood Simple and they didn’t have to listen to anybody. It’s kind of like a precedent was set, I don’t go backwards, I go forwards. I’m going to try to maintain that kind of control over the work that I do. And my argument for that would be in order for you to get me to create something like The Sadness, you’re going to have to try to recreate the similar circumstances. I can’t work feeling like the shit’s gonna get pulled out from under me. I have to feel in control of the work. I have to be in love with the work.

The Sadness had its European premiere at the Locarno Film Festival and will have its North American premiere at Fantasia later this month.

Read our review of The Sadness HERE

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Business

Netflix Acquires Iconic Roald Dahl Story Company

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Netflix have certainly won Wonka’s Golden Ticket as they and the Roald Dahl Story company (RDSC) have joined forces to bring the worlds most loved stories to current and future fans in creative new ways. 



By acquiring RDSC, Netflix have been giving access to the full catalog of works by the famed and well loved British author. This deal and acquisition builds on the partnership that started three years ago, to create a slate of animated shows, including a series based on the world of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” from Taika Waititi

In addition, Netflix are working with Sony and Working title on an adaptation of Matilda The Musical, which will be directed by Matthew Warchus and starring Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchbull, Lashana Lynch as Miss Honey and Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough will play Matilda’s parents. 

These projects made Netflix truly invest in Dahl and opened their eyes to a much more ambitious venture. Which will be the creation of a unique universe across animated and live action films and TV, publishing, games, immersive experiences, live theatre, consumer products and more. 

Dahl’s books, which include Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, The Witches and James and the Giant Peach etc, have sold more than 300 million and have been translated into 63 languages. His stories and characters have been delighting children and adults for generations, like myself who was brought up reading these sensational stories during bedtime and in primary school. Their messages of power and possibility of young people have never felt more relevant. 

I couldn’t think of a more deserving company to handle Dahl’s creations as Netflix will be able to bring these timeless tales to more audiences than ever before especially in new formats, but still maintaining their quirkiness, spirit and themes of surprise and kindness. 

Headquartered here in the UK, the Roald Dahl Story Company is led by Dahl’s grandson and managing director Luke Kelly, it has 26 full time employees across eight departments. Pending completion of the deal these employees will retain their positions and RDSC will then function as an autonomous unit within Netflix and it’ll expand the current plans for 19 tv shows, stage shows and live experiences. 



A significant part of the proceeds from the sale will go towards establishing a charitable trust, supporting existing and new charity partners of the RDSC in areas of Children’s health, anti-hate and anti-racism. Netflix and the Roald Dahl Story Company truly share a deep love of story telling and an ever growing global fan base. and as Ted Sarandos,  Netflix’s Co-CEO and Chief Content Officer says “Together, we have an extraordinary opportunity to write multiple new chapters of these beloved stories, delighting children and adults around the world for generations to come”.

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Animation

Marvel’s What If…?- Season 1 Episode 7 Review

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What If…?  is the latest Marvel Studios project to arrive on our small screens on Disney +.

The animated anthology series, created by Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia writer A.C. Bradley and Marvel vet Bryan Andrews flips the script on the MCU as following the creation of the multiverse in Loki’s first season finale, What If…? reimagines famous events from the films in unexpected ways.

What If..? is back with a brand new episode, for weeks we’ve been left sobbing and emotionally drained from watching our favourite MCU heroes suffer devastation after devastation. Following Killmonger’s rise to power last week, episode 7 puts Thor in the spotlight and certainly takes an upbeat approach, imagining what would have happed if Odin returned baby Loki to the Frost Giants and thus making Thor grow up as an only child, though no mention of her Majesty Cate Blanchett aka Hela The goddess of Death. 

More than battles won or lost, it’s relationships that truly define a hero. The people who shape them, their stories. Thor and Loki, a brotherhood so strong and pivotal, it would change the fate of a universe. Their childhood taught Thor many lessons. But in another universe, instead of raising the Jotunheim prince, Loki, as his own son, Odin returned him to his people. Without his trickster brother to keep things, let’s say, lively, Thor grew into a very different prince

The watcher

What If… Thor Were an Only Child?

Synopsis

Thor, who never learned to be a good hero, throws an out of control intergalactic party on Earth.

Marvel’s What If [Disney +]

Review

This was such a fun episode as it made me laugh from beginning to end. It also ends with an excellent cliffhanger, which seems to be setting up the epic finale. 

In this alternate Universe growing up without a pivotal relationship can really affect you as without Loki, Thor becomes a reckless Party Prince with a bad boy attitude. And when his father falls into Odinsleep and his mother Frigga goes away, Thor’s arrogance simply continues to grow as he decides to throw a huge party on Midgard aka Earth, where he believes Heimdall won’t be able to detect him. 

Marvel’s What If [Disney +]

Inviting all from the Nine Realms, he creates the biggest party ever witnessed on Earth. Many easter eggs and cameos appear thanks to the original actors voicing their characters. The standouts being Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, and Kat Dennings.

Also voicing their characters are Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Clark Gregg, Frank Grillo, Taika Waititi, Karen Gillan, Jaimie Alexander, Seth Green and Jeff Goldblum fabulously returning as the Grandmaster. 

Prince Loki of Jotunheim arrives in Las Vegas to join Thor’s party. He certainly towers over Thor and the other partygoers in his frost giant form.

With Thor taking over Earth with all his party-going antics, S.H.I.E.L.D step in to rain on his parade. Maria Hill uses Jane and Darcy to stop Thor however Jane hooks up with the God of Thunder, so Hill eventually calls upon someone with a bit more firepower, Captain Marvel. 

Both go head-to-head which creates an epic showdown with plenty of thunder and Lightning. But ultimately in the end there’s one relatable thing that does manage to stop Thor, his mother. Frigga who after being sought out by Jane arrives in the nick of time. 

Marvel’s What If [Disney +]

Her arrival prompts Thor to clean up his act, he enlists the help of his party guests to clean up Earth. As the episode comes to an end it shows that Thor and Jane’s relationship develops further as they both agree to go on a date. However there’s one thing The Watcher didn’t see, That Cliffhanger. Overall Episode 7 is a jam-packed one with delightful and crazy moments. 

 

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Comedy

Sex Education Season 3- Review

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This review doesn’t contain any plot spoilers but if you want to go in totally blind, don’t read more than the first and last paragraphs!

Yesterday, Netflix dropped the trailer for the third season of its hit show Sex Education. The raunchy TV show first premiered in pandemic-less 2019, and after COVID disrupted the filming of the third season, Season 3 is finally here. And it soars. Netflix gives us more of the same in the best way possible. Check out the new trailer below.

The opening scene of the newest series sets the tone we are familiar with at Moordale; a sex-filled romp full of comedy, intimacy, and a great soundtrack! And that’s about right. The newest season is more of everything we love about Netflix’s one-of-a-kind show picks up with a time-jump, Jean is heavily pregnant (and still hasn’t told Jakob), the summer is over and it’s back to school for our impressive ensemble with the worry of university looming over everyone. After being heartbroken by Maeve ignoring his voicemail confessing his love for her, Asa Butterfield’s Otis is secretly having casual sex with one of the most popular girls in school.



Emma Mackey’s Maeve, having never heard the voicemail after Isaac (George Robinson) deleted it is focusing more on herself and her friendship with Aimee and Isaac after the devastating end of season two which saw Elsie, Maeve’s little sister, being taken into care after Maeve called the police on her mum, which has also led to Maeve being shut out completely by her mum. The two leads of the show spend a lot of the season sharing tension-filled scenes as Otis is upset with Maeve for ignoring his message, and Maeve is upset with Otis, thinking that he hasn’t spoken to her all summer, and you’re just screaming at the TV hoping Otis tells Maeve about the voicemail and when the truth finally does come out, it’s cathartic. 

Headmistress Hope and Head Boy Jackson

A big change in Season 3 is of course that, after the explosive end to the last season, Mr Groff is no longer the Headmaster at Moordale. He is unemployed and living with his brother, played by Jason Isaacs, and pretending to go to work. This obviously leaves a vacuum in Moordale which is quickly filled by new headteacher; Hope Haddon, played by Jemima Kirke. Kirke is the villain you will love to hate as she brings a totally new and incredibly strict leadership to Moordale. She really is one of the most brilliantly unlikeable villains in a long time. Hope’s main aim is to rebuild the reputation of Moordale after the events of the previous two seasons have left Moordale with the nickname “The Sex School” in the press. Hope goes above and beyond to fix this and makes more than a few enemies along the way. You will love watching and rooting for everything she does to fail!

Sex Education has always been impressive with its inclusion and this season takes a big step with the introduction of Dua Saleh’s Cal, the show’s first (though not only) openly non-binary character and so the writers must deal with what it’s like to be non-binary in school. Saleh’s performance is fantastic in this regard bringing xyr real-life experience as a non-binary person to the role. They have to deal with gendered school uniforms and being told to wear a skirt or stand in the girls’ line outside a lesson (yes, Headmistress Hope really is that contemptible), and while the writing around this sensitive topic can feel a little ham-fisted at times, it’s all well-intentioned and is handled well. Cal is strong and funny and stands up for themself and makes a great, compelling addition to the already impressive and busy cast of the show. Cal begins an unlikely friendship with Head Boy Jackson Marchetti as they both decide to take on the tyrannical new Headmistress.

My biggest issue with Sex Education, though, is Adam Groff (Connor Swindells). Specifically, his relationship with Ncuti Gatwa’s Eric. His performance is great but the ‘homophobic bully turns out to be queer’ trope is overused and harmful. It’s harmful enough on its own, but Sex Education takes it to the next level by having Eric and his bully fall in love. It’s as though Eric has Stockholm syndrome and has fallen for his abuser. And season 3 doubles down on this trope, having the two begin the series in a relationship and much more openly. Adam admits to being “a bit of a puff” in school, but still can’t tell his mother. Adam could have had a great redemption arc across the show if he’d have just realised that homophobia is bad and trying to make amends with those he has hurt rather. I also think exploring Adam’s bisexuality a little more would’ve been beneficial. It’s as though any interest he had in women in seasons 1 and 2 is totally gone here, which was a little disappointing. The writers do their best to redeem Adam and show us that he’s changed, particularly when he’s stuck next to Raheem on a coach trip to France which ends with the show trying to replicate the classic and iconic “it’s my vagina” moment from its first season, but it never quite feels like Adam deserves Eric.

All of the performances this season are brilliant. Ncuti Gatwa’s performance dealing with the complexities of his relationship with Swindells’ Adam is done very well, the two have an intimate personal relationship and Swindell does a wonderful job of opening up as Adam for us more and more each episode. As Eric Effiong, Otis’ best friend, Gatwa balances the comedy and the very serious issues perfectly in a charming performance. In one episode, Eric goes to Nigeria for a family wedding, and it is a fantastic exploration being queer and black in a religious Nigerian family in a country where it is illegal to be gay and Gatwa does it flawlessly. Mimi Keene is given much more to do as Ruby and she becomes much more than the ‘untouchable’ she has been limited to thus far. BAFTA winner Aimee Lee Wood returns as everyone’s favourite Aimee and is back to her usual charming and hilarious self, who now drives, although not very well. Butterfield and Mackey make compelling characters who are growing as people as each episode passes. While sometimes the comedy does seem a little lazier than previously; a lot seems to be relying on toilet humour and fart jokes, Sex Education still knows how to make us laugh. A lot. And I’m elated to report: there is MUCH more of Madam Groff!



So, strap in and get ready to dive into the hilarious and heart-warming world of Sex Education once more with its third season which is a conclusive hit! No show is tackling real social issues as well as this, it handles the most sensitive topics seemingly with ease. It’s a funny, NSFW, unique, inclusive look at love, sex, and being a British teenager. 

Make sure to stream Sex Education, exclusively on Netflix from September 17th.

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