Shudder Streaming: Welcome to the Bio-Industrial Nightmare World of Mad God (2022)

Phil Tippett is a special effects mastermind and his creations have graced films such as Star Wars (1977), Jurassic Park (1993), and Starship Troopers (1997). His specialty is elaborate creature designs and stop-motion work, the latter of which fell out of fashion in the film industry after the rise of CGI. Tippett began working on Mad God (2022) while he was doing effects on RoboCop 2 (1990) but he put it aside when he realized that stop-motion was considered "antiquated". Thanks to encouragement from peers in his studio, Tippett completed Mad God thirty years later proving that stop-motion animation is still a viable and intriguing animation style worthy of exploration in the modern age.

Mad God immediately thrusts the viewer into the dilapidated and corroded metal world with no frame of reference--similarly our protagonist The Assassin, is unceremoniously lowered into these smoggy depths via a diving bell. He is clad in protective gear and wears a gas mask and goggles, evoking images of WWII soldiers engaged in trench warfare. His purpose seems to be to implant and detonate a bomb deep in the bowls of this hellish bio-punk nightmare. There is no dialogue or exposition in this film, but it's easy to infer what is happening through the striking imagery and the actions of The Assassin.

The world of Mad God is one of unending industrial misery, where humanoid creatures are forced to toil in fire, gore, and muck for what seems like incomprehensible reasons. It is a factory that produces anguish, where the creatures and the machinery have melded together into horrifying abominations, trudging through rusted metal hallways covered in blood, feces, and urine. Death is frequent and inevitable, and the entire operation is lorded over by a mutant on a television screen who speaks in baby gibberish. The tone is overwhelming and grim, though there are a few sly jokes thrown in here and there.

Stop-motion is the perfect style as the organic creature models have a presence and griminess that is palpable. Liquids glisten in the light, metal gleams in the corners, and one can almost feel the dank and sticky walls on their fingertips. Tippett also mixes in some live-action footage in the second half of the film that is used to great effect, and it meshes well with the environment. Dan Wool's ominous and haunting music score weaves its way through the appalling visuals adding even more to the dour atmosphere.

Although there isn't a straightforward narrative, the themes of Mad God are loud and clear. It is a criticism of industrialization and war, both of which go hand in hand. War makes monsters of man, and industrialization destroys our earth and our sanity. Toxic chemicals are dumped everywhere, and to keep the machine running it must be fed labor forever, an infinite procession of effort that sucks everyone dry. Clock and time imagery show up often, implying that this destruction of society might be cyclical and ultimately unavoidable. Mad God isn't a feel-good movie, but it is a masterwork of mood and vision that cannot be missed.

--Michelle Kisner