Phil Tippett has created a nightmare, a wonderful, gloriously gruesome and relentlessly horrifying nightmare that leaves you with your jaw firmly on the ground. Simply put, you will have never seen anything like Mad God, an unforgettable and brilliant piece of cinema.
Mad God is a stop-motion film set in a Miltonesque world of monsters, mad scientists, and war pigs. A man journeys through subterranean chambers where he meets a world of tortured souls, decrepit bunkers and wretched monstrosities.
Last week, there was a review of Takahide Hori’s decade-plus long passion project, the cyber dystopian horror Junk Head. Well, not only is Phil Tippetts 30 year passion project just as astounding, it becomes the perfect film to combine with for a glorious double bill. So for those looking for a Dante’s Inferno film that somehow also includes WW2 style battles mixed with the damnation of humanity and all that has been created, then this is very much the film for you.
There are many moments while watching Mad God where you forget that you are watching a mostly stop motion animation. This is certainly so around 8 minutes after the capsule finally reaches its destination, we watch our character simply walk around exploring, but it is presented in a great tracking shot of just his feet. In those moments you feel the danger that he is in due to, what looks like filth around him. It is simple, but brilliantly executed. These small moments of wonder throughout the film engross you. Often stop-motion doesn’t feel like a film, yet the shot choices and visuals presented here feel positively cinematic and the only regret present is that you are not watching this in a cinema, because goodness what an experience that would be. This is a grand unwieldy story that has you where it wants you at all times.
So grand is the scope of Mad God that it would be very easy to get lost within it and feel overwhelmed. Striking image after striking image is flung at you at a frenetic pace in the opening half, and you are not quite sure if your brain has caught on to what your eyes have just witnessed. Without a doubt, this is a film that you will need to watch multiple times just to be positive that you caught everything. Moments that other films linger on for far longer are shown here and quickly moved on, such as the mammoth production we experience.
By moving along so quickly with each set piece, Lippett wants us to be disorientated, not to feel comfortable or familiar with the hellscape he has devised. You truly never know what to expect with each passing second; possibly the only thing you do know is that it will be darker, more gruesome and haunting than what came before it. However, like a nightmare, when Lippett wants to stay longer on a scene, he makes sure you and possibly your stomach will never forget it.
A surgical scene around midway through the film lasts a completely over-indulgent amount of time. However, this is the intention, those quick glances at this world has set you up for a fall, we think it will cut along again. Yet we linger and as the process from the surgeon continues, you struggle and in the back of your head you sense that Lippett and his team are nothing but giddy at it all. This was on purpose and we fell for it and this is our horrible punishment. If Mad God didn’t have your attention at that point, it sure does by the end of that scene.
The camerawork within the film from Chris Morley and Phil Tippett is simply awe-inspiring; the small touches, angles and movements have as mentioned that cinematic feel to them. Even when the film is doused in darkness, the gorgeous shots have you questioning everything that you see, to the point where you can practically feel the grime from the walls, smell the stench of blood and death as our character wanders through this world. Influences are filled all over the place in Mad God, Bosch, Dante, Shinya Tsukamoto and Brueghel, to name but a few. Layers upon layers of madness are going on in here, with the screen full to the brim with pain. It is a marvel, and at times you want just to pause the film and look for longer at what you are seeing. Each frame is a meticulous nightmarish painting to torment our eyes, yet, it is brutally wonderful.
Richard Beggs sound design coupled with Dan Wool’s score makes Mad God a very immersive layered experience. The sound resonates through the screen as you hear things happening in the foreground and deep into the background and of the screen. You feel surrounded and, as said, overwhelmed by what you are experiencing, thus making it a film that will not leave you anytime soon.
Where perhaps the film falters is within using some physical actors for some scenes. It removes you a touch from the film and what you have been experiencing in this format. Thematically it makes sense for them to be there, some of them cursed to repeat their roles seemingly until the end of time. The feeling that it loses its spark when we see them appears within you. You want nonstop animation for this film. Perhaps it is because they are purposely not rendered into their environment, but it feels off somehow. Though that can only be a minor grumble in what is such a well made film.
Tippett has said that in this 34 year on and off process, he effectively threw everything into the film that he could think of. So you sense that in the film, everything in his mind and psyche has been placed here, and it is astonishing. There are also many Easter eggs for stop motion animation fans, so if you ever have the chance to watch this multiple times, get a pen and paper and try and list them.
What stays with you is that without Kickstarters, Tippett’s own money and donations, as well as volunteers work with Mad God, you struggle to see where or how the film would have found a home with a studio in its current incarnation. It is practically a miracle that we have this movie in front of us for consumption. It is remarkable and something that we should cherish; even if it is dark and unrepentant, it remains an audacious feat of animation, unlike anything you will ever experience. Covet this film and Tippett, for wonders have been conjured here.
Mad God is available to watch now on www.filmhouseathome.com for 72 hours.
For more information on our coverage of EIFF, please look below at our reviews!
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