Nowadays, watching movies is a lot like a poor attempt at therapy. Few movies are really willing to tell the brutal truths and often try for heavy cathartic endings. A resolution that everything is going to be okay in the end. There are a few filmmakers who defy that and, sadly, they are often the ones who don't put butts in the seats anymore. If there is any positives to the streaming era, it's that streaming services who want to leave their own mark in the heavily saturated industry are willing to take more risks. Producing and distributing films that big studios refuse to put out there. It is for this reason that Shudder, a streaming service known exclusively for horror movies, was kind of enough to distribute the a stop-motion feature that was quite literally 30 years in the making. Directed, written, and produced by legendary visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett, Mad God has a title that would instantly send a chill down the spines of the collective masses. But for those fearless enough to dive alongside the lead character, dubbed The Assassin, into his haunting, apocalyptic tale of a ruined world entrenched in a constant, pointless war, you might actually learn something. Heck, you might actually want to do something about it. Because, make no mistake, the story told here is not cathartic. It's a vicious, sledgehammer across the face that would make mother! director Darren Aronofsky cry into his self-loathing cloak of pity.
The narrative is unique for not having any dialogue, clearly derived from a filmmaker whose entire career was forged in innovative effects he helped create from Star Wars to Jurassic Park. Thus, the visual presentation of his film is the true power of the narrative. While The Assassin is the essential narrative guide, his quest is a simple one that serves more to help carry the audience through a hellscape of a world. At times, the story branches out in smaller vignettes that connect to the larger world around it. Some may have issue with that lack of empathetic protagonist but that's the point. After all, it's a world where people are, quite literally, made out of excrement from tortured giants and those nameless, faceless drones form a society where they are kept on course of their daily servitude by horrific mutants. At first glance, Tippett seems to be taking a vicious stab at industrialization and our current society that pretty much goes through the soulless motions according to the equally faceless leaders (symbolized through a deformed, babbling baby-like creature that is broadcast nonstop on giant screens throughout the city). But it gets so much more worse after that. One constantly accompanied by Dan Wool's score that, whenever you think there is about to be a moment of hope, his music pulls you right back into the realization there is no happy ending planned here.
The Assassin, who seems to come from another city and is trying to destroy this world, observes a world where people have become simple, disposable fuel to keep the world going. Where humanity has been stripped in favor of endless rage and misery. But what perhaps makes Mad God so effective is that Tippett's inventiveness in delving further and further into this world with such intent detail that by the end of the story it's existential madness. Everything from religion to materialism is fair game here. And while I am aware this review is nothing but generalization of this film's points, it's because every single frame is used to maximum effect and revealing much more would be stealing from potential audiences a truly one-in-a-million experience. But I will of course give some specifics about the animation.
Tippett almost didn't finish this film because, after his work on Jurassic Park, he felt stop-motion was now obsolete. He was encouraged to keep going and it's good he did. Stop-motion allows for a certain intimate form of storytelling. Where creatures and ideas are more visualized in a way that you know that they were physically filmed and that sort of hyper-realization is something that ink on paper or computer-generated models (that only exist on hard drives as bits of data) can never replace. These horrific images of a world on autopilot toward the destination of self-destruction were made by hand. By the hands of filmmakers who had an unfiltered message to say, told through a fictionalized world so defined that it feels real and it's one where there is no escape.
But for those who are willing to watch a movie and be truly haunted by what you see, maybe you can keep our world from the same fate. But it involves something most movies are afraid to really be. Honest. Completely honest. And for that, I hope Mad God remains in the minds of all. The Begotten of this generation. And THAT is saying something for those who don't just watch whatever throws around a $50 million marketing campaign their way but who go out and look for something that carries it's own meaning. A meaning that might take a few viewings to truly grasp, but a meaning that is its own for certain.
Lack of a narrative focus