Directed by: Phil Tippett
Premise: Set in a nightmarish fantasy world, an assassin travels through an industrial wasteland intending to detonate a bomb.
What Works: Phil Tippett has been one of the major figures in visual effects and the art of stop motion animation, having worked on The Empire Strikes Back, Robocop, Jurassic Park, and Starship Troopers. Mad God is an opportunity for Tippett to show off his skills and it is an extraordinary works of craftmanship. Most of the film is stop motion animation and that form has a unique visual character. There is a tactility and humanity to stop-motion that makes it immediately accessible and Mad God leverages that quality. The creatures and people of Mad God don’t have dialogue and aren’t deeply characterized but many of them do achieve a sense of identity in the subtle details of their movements and emotions. The art direction and creature design are unique and vivid. The world of Mad God pops off the screen and achieves a grossly visceral impact. This is a grotesque movie that is also paradoxically beautiful in its own way. The film takes the viewer on a journey through this fantasy world as we follow The Assassin. We aren’t told of his mission but the visual cues are enough to communicate a sense of direction and purpose. Mad God’s exposition-free immersion into this world makes it fascinating, much more so than if everything were explained to us. This filmmaking choices also allow the audience to interpret the visuals. The design of Mad God suggests a post-industrial wasteland and the various creatures and machines that inhabit this world can be read in various ways. It’s an apocalyptic movie and the film speaks to the various crises facing our present historical moment but it also has implications about industry and civilization that are bigger than that.
What Doesn’t: Mad God is unlike anything in mainstream cinema. That’s to the movie’s credit but it is also going to limit the film’s appeal. There is little dialogue. Everything is communicated visually and the film doesn’t define its characters. This is less of a narrative feature and more of a visual experience in the vein of Pink Floyd’s The Wall or the short films of Kenneth Anger and Adam Jones. Most of the craftsmanship of Mad God is exceptional but a few shots give away the scale of the miniatures.
DVD extras: Available on the Shudder streaming service.
Bottom Line: Mad God is primed to become a cult film. Its bleak vision and grotesque visuals may not be for everyone but viewers who get it are probably going to love it.
Episode: #907 (June 26, 2022)