Review – Mad God

“Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin” cites the film after the title card, borrowing from Leviticus 26 27, a morbid yet accurate approximation surrounding the worlds you’re about to see, and the heart behind them. Mad God is a surrealist nightmare, a fever dream of stop motion and live-action hybridity that sends its audience into a vision of hell, a multifaceted world of dismay and rubble, unflinchingly bleak and wildly unsettling.

Phil Tippett is a legend. If you don’t know his name, you know his work, you’ve seen it throughout the greatest blockbusters of all time, his stop motion work, creature design and VFX work is legendary, from the holo-chess table in the original Star Wars, the movement of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, to the creatures in Starship Troopers, VFX would be nothing without the work Phil Tippett has put in over his storied career. When working on Robocop 2, Tippett began to shoot what would become Mad God, a passion project that took over thirty years to create, completed with the help of a Kickstarter fundraiser.

Mad God follows a character known only as “the Assassin” as they transport a bomb through nightmarish landscapes, full of unknown, unnerving and grotesque creatures. It’s a macabre and discomforting film, Tippett’s creations, both creature, landscape and events, are a pure design of a twisted and deeply concerned mind, as Tippett contends with a world on the brink. The film is a dive into the anxieties about an ever-darkening world that moves further from the light, which only continues to perpetuate darkness and ruin, as society continues to collapse in on itself. Tippett’s craft of stop-motion continues to be unmatched, in spite of his well-quoted claim from a meeting with Steven Spielberg that he is “extinct” thanks to CGI. 

Tippett, as well as his animators, craft these immaculate and disturbing worlds that benefit from the tangibility of stop motion, as well as his disturbing designs, these creatures and settings are full of true horror, pure unhinged imagery of body horror and unnerving creatures. It borders on magical in a way, if it weren’t for being quite so viscerally upsetting. It’s all in service of creating a lucid nightmare, a surreal dive into the horrors of our world. Tippett explores his own inner views about the state of society and the world we inhabit through the lens of these hellscapes, whether it is the garbage dump or the ruined and desolate iconography of the United States, there’s a clear fear about the state of the world, and it’s clear that even across the thirty-year production process, he still feels the same about it, about the way in which the world cycles and repeats itself, and is ever-doomed to the same fate. It is the madness of gods to push the universe to be better and watch their creations fall into disrepair, from the mind of a form of mad god in Phil Tippett creating this dreadful and unnerving world.

Mad God is a unique vision of the world around us through the eyes of its creator, interpreted into an unrelenting surreal and macabre descent into hell. It’s one of those pieces of film art that feels wholly unique and singular, from the mind of a creature that has full control over his medium. Tippett crafts such a searingly upsetting feast for the senses, that digs into your brain and disrupts and burns the imagery into your psyche. Phil Tippett is a master, not only of stop motion and creature design but film as a form as well, serving up a masterclass in the morbid and surreal, with imagery that builds a complex structure of metaphor and symbolism. It’s a bleak and upsetting film, it’s far from an easy watch, and there are no easy answers, yet it is pure, unadulterated art from a man, who revolutionised the world of VFX, and who is uneasy with the world around him.

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