What a movie.
One term you tend to hear a lot when it comes to film is references to a movie as an “experience.” Critics like to call a movie “the experience of a lifetime,” “the experience of the century,” “the experience of” you get the picture. It’s mostly nonsense marketing and buzzwords that companies like to use. Mad God is an experience and one I will recommend with some very heavy caveats.
Mad God is a stop motion animation film directed, produced, and written by Phil Tippett, a massive veteran of stop motion animation. Tippett’s work is most famously known in the original Star Wars trilogy, working on things like the miniature chess scene, the Tauntauns and the walkers, and the creature shop in general in Return of the Jedi. He supervised the animation in Jurassic Park. Mad God meanwhile is an on-again-off-again project started way back in the days of Robocop 2. It’s been a long way coming.
The plot of Mad God is pretty simple. The protagonist, a figure clad in a jacket and gas mask and credited only as The Assassin, is dropped into a nightmarish hellscape that feels like a world right out of Dante’s Inferno. His job appears to be carrying a suitcase bomb to its destination for the destruction of something or other. Once again, a fairly simple concept. Throughout the movie we are introduced to more of the hellish world our protagonist must survive. One where life is created and extinguished for seemingly no reason. A brutal, violent, gore-filled world of ridiculous stop-motion creatures clearly bred from a twisted mind.
One thing you’ll notice in this review is that I’m not naming any actors. Mad God doesn’t have any dialogue. There’s a few grunts, groans, and incomprehensible dialogue from time to time. A few parts throughout the movie feature actual actors sometimes moving in stop motion, but they don’t have conversations or speak in a way that the audience would understand. As a result there aren’t many complicated interactions or relationships between characters. Everything is very much out there, very basic, and very simple. The film is ultimately about the spectacle of the world, the impressive animation quality, and sitting back and taking it all in either by yourself or with a group of soon to be ex-friends.
Mad God is a deeply unsettling movie and is often highly uncomfortable to watch. In terms of torture porn movies, it makes The Passion of the Christ look like an episode of Peewee’s Playhouse. We often see shots of creatures of questionable sentience being created only to immediately be fed into a machine of senseless torture and death. My immediate thought was that it felt like something that might exist in Warhammer 40K, a desiccated world rotting from its own exploitation full of nothing but suffering, death, torture, and gore. Creatures are torn apart in fantastical ways, everyone is either killing one another or trying manically to survive, and our protagonist is just trying not to become another one of those casualties.
It’s not a movie I would recommend for the queasy, given the regular use of very squishy sound effects and a prolonged torture scene involving a very violent surgery performed on a quite live person with exaggerated amounts of blood and internal body parts. There’s no humor or happiness to be had with this movie. Just darkness, death, misery, more death, suffering, and more death. In other words, it’s a fantastic film.
The animation quality, which is of course what you’re here to see, if masterfully done considering it was handled mostly by film students on weekends over the course of multiple years. Tippett makes incredible set pieces and while nothing is outwardly explained to the audience you do get the feeling that the world has its own centered, twisted, internal logic to how everything works. That thin thread of plot forms the core for what ultimately does come off as a series of doodles and ideas patched together to create an 83 minute film. But god damn is it an experience you’ll remember for a long time.
A commonality among one star reviews I found on Rotten Tomatoes is that the film has no plot or no storyline, and I have to assume most of the people giving those ratings are either severely attention deficit or are morons. Mad God isn’t like a David Lynch movie where time is less linear and you’re constantly wondering what part of the plot is real. There might not be any dialogue, but there’s a very clear plot going from start to finish, where we follow the protagonist attempting to plant a bomb and the events that follow. It’s not obscure, it’s not hidden behind scenery and trickery, it’s laid out in a very linear fashion to the audience.