2022 | unrated (PG-13 equivalent) | written & directed by Phil Tippett | 1h 23m |
I’ve seen Phil Tippett’s long-awaited passion project Mad God twice now and am still not quite sure what I’ve seen entirely. It’s a challenging, perplexing movie that leans harder into movies-as-visual-art than movies-as-storytelling mediums that predominates internet movie conversation. It’s a film that from the first frame recalls the dawn of silent era filmmaking in a way I haven’t seen in modern movies in a very long time. It’s unique and difficult and unlike anything you will see.
Mad God takes us on a journey, where is for us to decide. What it represents is for each of us to decide, but it’s a vast, horrific nightmare of a wasteland. Industrial, apocalyptic, hellish. Full of ghouls, surgeons, monsters and worker drones. A place where life means nothing, organic matter is ground up into squishy liquid and creatures regularly kill and consume what seem to be our heroes. The story, as it were, is entirely dialog free, with a classic silent film opening crawl and a shot of a model of the Tower of Babel being engulfed in darkness and terror.
Much of the film’s charm is that it looks like a model. It’s characters look like toys. It feels like we’re inhabiting an otherworldly place walking alongside it’s tiny inhabitants. It looks and moves more like A Town Called Panic than Nightmare Before Christmas. Every frame is pulsing with details and new creations at every turn. It’s shockingly grim, not something one would expect if they grew up with Phil Tippett as the puppeteer behind crowd-pleasers like Star Wars and Jurassic Park. This movie couldn’t be further from those films. It’s relentlessly cruel in how it treats it’s characters and it’s vision of the world. None of that is a bad thing.
The journey follows what appears to be mankind’s attempts to infiltrate and destroy a hellish underworld, first with a gas-mask clad explorer in a metal tube and again with an Assassin, both armed with a suitcase bomb. Not only are the creatures deadly and the air toxic, but the rules of time and space seem to be bend in favor of the monsters and against human interference. The world is impossible and uninhabitable, a mix of world war I trench warfare and dystopian science fiction.
Mad God is a completely original vision that I can only compare to a pistache of other styles that I can’t even identify as influences. In some moments it’s kind of like a Tim Burton movie, kind of like a Studio Ghibli movie, kind of like a Fritz Lang German expressionist film, kind of like a French Jean-Pierre Jeunet creation, kind of like if Metropolis was filmed in a Freddy Krugar dream sequence. All dipped in Tippett’s own apparent anarchism. It’s beautifully surreal and I’d love to know more about the guy behind it.
Some will say the film is about religion, with bible quotes making an appearance and obvious illusions to heaven and hell. Some will say it’s about industrialization with mankind getting ground down to a pulp under the weight of machines. Some will say it’s about movies themselves, harking back to the dawn of filmmaking. Tippett leaves that for us to sort through. Mad God is pure cinema. It’s not an easy sit, it takes a masterful attention span, but it’s a grimy, inventive thing unlike anything you will see.