Review: Mad God

A stop-motion movie that's like nothing you've ever seen

Hero image

The visual effects supervisor, producer and director Phil Tippett is a modern master in the art of stop-motion animation: a filmmaking technique where objects are manipulated and photographed, frame by frame, in small increments to create the illusion of movement when the frames are played back in sequence. A painstakingly slow and meticulous process but visually rewarding. Think Morph, Wallace and Gromit, and the dinosaurs and mythological creations animated by Ray Harryhausen. Tippett’s work since the late 1970s pushed the technique further by introducing realistic motion blurring and has earned him much acclaim and Oscar-recognition.

His new experimental film Mad God took over 30 years to reach the screen, following a successful Kickstarter campaign to finance its completion. This is his second directorial feature, following Starship Troopers 2: Hero of The Federation (2004).

The sparse plot follows an unnamed assassin on an unspecified mission, lowered into a Danté-esque hellscape populated with all manner of grotesque inhabitants, seemingly intent on squashing, dissecting, eating or excreting each other in a primordial fight for supremacy. What they are searching for is never made clear. Tippett has, perhaps purposefully, side-stepped traditional storytelling in favour of more freeform expressions of mood and feeling through arresting imagery. He has certainly succeeded in creating a visually fascinating, often audacious, yet frequently repulsive experience of a film, positively brimming with ideas and incident but short on clarity or narrative drive. When interviewed for Empire magazine recently, Tippett said: “the final form of Mad God isn’t the film itself, but the memory after you watch it.”

Geek references abound with sightings of the iconic cyclops from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Stygian Witches and Minotaur of Greek mythology, and cult film-maker Alex Cox as one of the few human actors amidst the animated mayhem. Apart from a few comedy pratfalls it is genuinely nightmarish and unsettling, but you’ll be unable to avert your eyes. Imagine a Nine Inch Nails video made by Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer, with sparse soundtrack and next to no dialogue.

I’m sure in years to come it will be considered a cult masterpiece and a paradigm of artistry and technique, but at times it felt more like an art gallery video installation than an actual film. I cannot honestly tell you whether I enjoyed it, but I can certainly say that many of the images will haunt my memory for some time. To admirers, and other stop-motion animators, Tippet’s stunningly macabre display will be viewed as a dark visual masterwork, and required watching, but to others it may leave a bitter taste … and probably face ache from all the squirming. For better or worse you’ll be stunned to silence by the time the credits roll.

Mad God had its UK premiere at The Edinburgh International Film Festival

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Review: Mad God

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.