Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 Film Review – Mad God (2021)

An intrepid operative on a sabotage mission enters a rudimentary capsule and is lowered for miles into a depraved world of nihilistic barbarism and filthy futility. Armed only with his wits and a slowly disintegrating map, he must navigate a path through a horrifying dystopia filled with mechanical nightmares and deathly eco-systems built on abuse and suffering.

Our hapless adventurer encounters a race of hessian textured turd people whose entire existence is one of casual expendability and brutal pointlessness. However, they are just the initial fodder in a production line of pain that leads to the mind-blowing origins of life itself.

World-class contender for the longest cinematic gestation period of all time, 33 years to be exact, Mad God is an extraordinary labour of love from the fertile imagination of special effects guru Phil Tippett. The name may not mean much to you, but it is an unavoidable fact that much of his iconic work forms the very fiber of your fondest movie memories.

The holographic chess battle aboard the Millenium Falcon and the ominous advance of AT-AT Imperial Walkers trudging through the snow. The jaw-dropping realism of the scaly beast in Dragonslayer. The epic boardroom meltdown of ED-209 in RoboCop. The goosebump-inducing first encounter with dinosaurs in Jurrasic Park. The heartstopping siege of alien arachnids in Starship Troopers. None of these would exist save for the creative genius of Mr. Tippett.

To say he is well respected in the industry would be a criminal understatement. When Guillermo del Toro hails you as a “master” you know you are bossing your field. Consequently, Mad God is one of the most hotly anticipated animated films in history.

Crammed to bursting point with flamboyant artistry and incendiary imagery, this wordless slop bucket chucked in the face of humanity is wholly unphased by any expectations. Indeed it seeks to challenge and confound them with the kind of burning intensity that can only be sparked into life from the kindling of obsession.

Frequently gross, and consistently oppressive, Mad God attacks the eyeballs like a stop motion honey badger on a mind mauling mission. Snippets of hardcore sex, beyond graphic surgical mutilations, and blood-drenched minitour gang rape are just a few of the surreal and shocking cudgels used to beat the viewer into a submissive state of absorbant wonder. For the most part, it feels like being trapped in the perverse fever dreams of Wallace and Gromit after a late-night binge of absinthe and acid-laced Wensleydale.

As an extended metaphor for the soul-sapping grind of the capitalist model, the film pulls no punches in deconstructing an empathy-starved system that benefits the greedy few who feed upon the blood, sweat, and tears of the many. Yet Mad God, much like the explorer we shadow into the heart of this dystopian despair, goes much deeper than that. It seems to be eliciting condemnation on a species that is compliant in its relentless restocking of the very mechanism that undermines it.

Sandwiched between the fecal waterfalls and nonchalant butchery are some lyrical passages of beauty and serenity. Vibrant shafts of light penetrating an otherwise bleak universe of rinse and repeat exploitation and depression. However, even these segments of respite seem to turn back on themselves and repoint the finger of blame at the naive complacency of a society unwilling to help itself severe the umbilical cord of servitude.

As Ernest Agyemang Yeboah once wrote, “So many people live their lives accepting suffering as a way of life and they end up living their lives in perpetual self-inflicted pain without seeing a need to awake to take steps to their latent joy”, and this encapsulates perfectly the abrasive pathos that fuels Mad God.

Not content with drenching consumerism in a perpetual shitshower, the movie also has plenty of Dantean dung left over to fling at the walls of blind theological faith and man’s unquenchable thirst for war.

For a film with such a heavyweight philosophical agenda, there is a rich vein of mischievous humour running through it. Most of it comes in the form of existential fancy and juxtaposed whimsy. However, keep a keen eye out for the more conventional implementation of easter eggs gleaned from Tippett’s real-world influences such as Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet.

In fact, Mad God could be fairly described as a huge pop culture pile up in sewage pipe so wide-ranging and inexhaustible are the references it wears on its crud plastered sleeve.

Leaving Mad God to brew for three decades has done nothing to harm the angry tang of its vintage. If anything, it has intensified its sensory overloading bouquet. Not since The Golden Glove has a movie experience invoked the need for a post-credits shower so compulsively.

Tippett himself believes the true power of his monstrous project is “the memory after you watch it”, and I tend to agree with him. Partly because there is almost too much going on to process at the time, and partly because of the nightmare mind state it envokes. Like awakening from horrific night terrors that can only truly be unpacked when they are revisited in the cold light of day.

For such a niche, or should that be Nietzsche, enterprise Mad God has surprisingly ample scope for connecting to huge swathes of varying fanbases. Animation aficionados will be enthralled and appalled in equal measure. Lovers of in-your-face trippy head fucks will be in heaven. Gorehounds and ambulance chasers of the human condition will lap up the carnage and degradation. Fantasy and Sci-Fi buffs will revel in its uncompromising attitude and polluted intellectualism. Body horror and torture porn fiends will find exactly what they seek.

However this anarchic thrill ride finds you, it will drill into your psyche and cling there like a parasitic worm.

★★★★★

North American Premiere   Fantasia Film Festival  2021     Scheduled

Animation, Horror | USA | 2021 | 83 mins | Tippett Studio| Dir. Phil Tippett