Mad God (2021) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): The mad imagination of Phil Tippett

To be frank with you, I don’t think I really understand everything presented in “Mad God”, but, boy, what a wild work of grotesque imagination it is. I must warn you in advance that there are lots of disturbing and gruesome moments to make wince or cringe more than once, but they are so striking in terms of mood and details that they will linger on your mind for a long time even though you wonder what it is exactly about.

The film, which is a stop-motion animation film mixed with some live action elements, is a longtime passion project of Phil Tippett, who has been known for many notable special effects including the Oscar-winning ones for Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” (1993). Although he actually started to work on this project from 1987, he later put it aside due to the rise of CGI via “Jurassic Park”, but, after two decades, he eventually came to resume the project thanks to the encouragement of his close colleagues, though it took another several years for him and his crew members to complete the film. According to him, he often had to depend on rather inexperienced volunteers willing to work for him during weekends, but he managed to draw the best efforts from them in addition to getting his projected partially funded by Kickstarter donations.

The overall result looks rather shabby and uneven at times, but Tippett and his crew members deserve all the praises they have received. It is more or less than a series of individual moments of sheer grotesque, but these individual moments, which all look deliberately ugly and hideous, are filled with mood and details to be savored, and I gladly go along with that even while struggling to follow its rather elusive narrative.

At first, the film shows a grim post-apocalyptic world ruined by some big war, and then it focuses on a diving bell slowly descending from somewhere up in the sky. The diving bell contains an unnamed humanoid figure, and the film follows this figure’s very long descent into the underground world, which is incidentally full of unnerving sights to disturb you in one way or another.

When the diving bell eventually arrives at the bottom of the underground world, the figure comes out of the diving bell, and the film continues to shock and disturb us more as following the figure. Along with the figure, we behold various sights and figures which will strike you hard with their outrageously and repulsively ungainly appearances, and I still remember a grisly moment which shows a bunch of masked figures constantly tortured as being bound on their torture chairs.

One of the most horrific sights during this part is involved with how tiny anonymous figures are exploited in one way or another. Once they are ‘created’, they are forced to do many kinds of risky works, and they are utterly expendable to say the least. I wonder whether this is the exaggerating depiction of the evil of capitalistic exploitation, but the movie does not tell or explain anything while letting us to process and interpret this and many other disturbing moments for ourselves.

It later turns out that the figure has a certain mission to be accomplished, but then the figure is taken to somewhere right before getting the mission accomplished. We soon see the figure savagely eviscerated by some mad doctor and his nurse, and the film goes all the way into blood and guts without hesitation. This is surely gory and horrendous, but it is presented via stop-motion animation at least, so we observe it with morbid fascination even while horrified by its extreme goriness.

Around that point, we see some human figures including the one played by Alex Cox, who has been mainly known for his several cult films including “Repo Man” (1984) and “Sid and Nancy” (1986). Cox’s character turns out to be the one who sent the figure down from somewhere up in the sky, but the film does not clarify whatever Cox’s character has actually tried to do, except that he has plenty of other figures to be sent down there.

We keep getting more of Tippett’s mad imagination, which continue to serve us one crazy grotesque moment after another as usual. At one point later in the film, Tippett and his crew members give us an unexpected moment of colorfulness to relieve us a bit, but, not so surprisingly, this moment does not last long as they strike us again with another disturbing moment. This and many other moments are certainly quite unpleasant on the surface, but they are driven by style and imagination besides having some naughty sense of black humor, and it is evident that Tippett, who handled many aspects of the production in addition to writing and producing the film, and his crew members had lots of fun together.

In conclusion, “Mad God” is a singular piece work to be admired for many reasons, and it is certainly something you cannot miss if you are looking for something different from usual Hollywood blockbuster animation films. Sometimes we overlook the fact that the world of animation is not just for kids, and those uncompromising adult animation films like “Mad God” remind us of why animation is still a fertile ground for more style and imagination. While I am not going to recommend it to young audiences for now, I hope they will check it out when they grow up a bit later.

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