Mad God is an unforgettable animated film that will haunt you for years.
Mad God (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on January 5, 2023
Rating 4 /5
Phil Tippett has been a visual effects genius for years in movies. His credits extend from the creature animation effects of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope to consulting for visual effects on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. He’s directed a handful of films, but none compare to Mad God. This is his mind-blowing opus that feels like the magnum opus of his career in the field of animation. Finally, all his effects that made aliens move and dinosaurs come to life are utilized for this trippy, surreal, and nightmarish descent into a strange world.
The film's plot is basic in its staging yet complex for its greater thematic elements. A faceless assassin dives down into what is presumably the depths of hell. Proceeding with a diving bell, the deeper he goes, there more grotesque and weird this underground world becomes. Giant people are electroshocked in chairs. Monkey-like beings and tracked down and chopped up by a mad butcher. Mindless beings of twine are thoughtlessly squished and destroyed amid their meandering tasks of pushing objects into place.
The assassin seems to be on a mission of destruction, given his suitcase and the attached timer. However, the film isn’t about some simplistic adventure to destroy evil and restore peace. Instead, the film becomes a darker lamentation of how evil itself is not some understandable force that can be halted or defeated altogether. About halfway through the film, the assassin fails and is captured and gutted by the weird beings of the underworld, fluctuating between supernatural manipulators of matter and live-action doctors who gut and gore any human who treads into their domain. The movie's second half focuses more on the aspects of mortality and time, showcasing how the assassin’s innards are extracted and used as the very essence of the forms, all that is.
This is a challenging watch of a film of the endless onslaught of gross creatures and gore and the freewheeling nature of the darker aspects of exploring this realm. Playing like an extended music video for Tool, there are so many asides to this stop-motion extravaganza. One of the more notable aspects is a scene where an alchemist tends to his small world of creatures. It’s a beautiful pocket of paradise loaded with wondrous colors and cute creatures. But it’s also where maggots are on the menu, and a giant spider occasionally pops in to kill someone. A duo of roaches watch from a table and take little heed. Everything in this underground hellscape is an experiment, right down to the film’s climax of extracting the golden elements of existence from a crying worm baby.
It’s hard to express the exact emotions that Mad God conjures without just finding synonyms for “strange.” For most of the film, the audience is just meant to marvel at Tippett’s many creature effects taken to the ultimate extreme. While all that is fine as a showcase and celebration of Tippett’s achievements, I couldn’t help but feel a bit let down that this was all the film was displayed in its dance of darkness. Towards the end of the film, however, it all clicks. The film's all-encompassing conclusion beautifully presents the focus on time and mortality as malleable components of existence, which brings everything into focus amid its smear of playing with time and flesh.
Mad God is an unforgettable animated film that will haunt you for years. It’s hard to recommend it to an audience who isn’t willing to dabble into something darker beyond dialogue and straightforward storytelling. But if you’re willing to take a walk on the wild side and don’t mind getting lost in a cerebral contemplation on the soul, time, and flesh, this is a brilliantly assembled horror fest that works as much more than just a gory puppet showcase (although there’s a lot of great puppets to be sure).
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.