Skip to main content

Mad God review: A gory, gorgeous nightmare

Sometimes a film defies description even after you watch it. In the case of Mad God, Oscar-winning filmmaker Phil Tippett’s stop-motion magnum opus developed over more than three decades, the difficulty in boiling the film down to a few sentences is ultimately a good problem to have, because the singular experience it offers is one that benefits from having as little information as possible going into it.

One thing that is worth revealing, however, is that Mad God is unlike anything else you’ve seen lately — and are likely to see again anytime soon. And in the interest of preserving that experience, it’s probably best to keep any review of the film mercifully brief.

The Assassin lights a flare in a scene from Mad God.

Directed, written, and produced by Tippett, Mad God is a project years in the making for the visual effects master who won an Oscar for his work in 1993’s Jurassic Park, and earned nominations in prior and subsequent years for his work on DragonslayerStar Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, Willow, and Starship Troopers, among other noteworthy projects. Begun in 1990 and developed in fits and starts over the next 30 years, Mad God ostensibly tells the story of a lone assassin’s journey into a hellish underworld to detonate a bomb, told with a blend of stop-motion animation and surreal, live-action elements. The film uses minimal dialogue to tell its story and relies instead on a visceral mix of sights and sounds.

From the film’s opening moments, Tippett’s attention to detail in every scene over the film’s 83-minute running time is breathtaking. Everything around The Assassin (as the mysterious figure is simply called) is depicted with a meticulous sense of depth and weight — physical, emotional, and narrative — and each new horror the protagonist experiences is terrifying in a palpable sense. The creatures it encounters on its mission and the gruesome acts of violence they commit feel genuinely horrifying, but the scope of Tippett’s artistic vision and the talent on display makes it impossible to look away.

A creature shambles out of a cave in a scene from Mad God.

While Tippet is best known for his work in stop-motion animation and visual effects, his knack for sound editing gets plenty of attention in Mad God, too.

In lieu of traditional dialogue, Mad God relies on looping, distorted audio recordings, and other recycled sounds along with a hefty dose of squishing, squashing, and altogether cringe-inducing audio effects that add a layer of gory realism to the events unfolding on the screen. Tippett leans into the film’s macabre moments with an unbridled enthusiasm — like a child splashing around in the mud, except instead of mud, Tippett’s medium of choice is clay figures and a never-ending supply of fake blood and viscera. The squelching sound of a character mucking about inside another character’s abdominal cavity is juxtaposed against distorted old radio broadcasts or the modulated jabbering of a baby, creating the sort of sensory experience that sweeps you along on Mad God‘s rapidly escalating mindfuck.

The Assassin stands in front of a giant creature being tortured in a scene from Mad God.

While the underlying narrative in the film rarely feels well-defined, it’s enough to link the events unfolding on the screen together for much of the film’s first two acts or so. Any responsibility to preserving that narrative gets dropped late in Mad God, though, which meanders a bit through its final 20-30 minutes. What happens on the screen during that segment is still an amazing spectacle of artistic ability, but occasionally feels a little too disconnected from the early portions of the film — and it likely was, given the film’s long production saga.

Still, Mad God is the sort of film that needs to be seen and experienced (preferably, on a big, beautiful screen) to be truly appreciated for the achievement that it is. Tippett’s film feels like a project three decades in the making, and every moment is brimming with the sort of dedication — and obsession with seeing it through — required to bring a project of this scope and vision to the screen.

Sure, it’s taken a long time to get here, but Mad God makes it abundantly clear that it was time well spent.

Phil Tippett’s Mad God will receive a limited theatrical run beginning June 10 before premiering June 16 on Shudder streaming service.

Mad God (2022)
Mad God
83m
Genre Animation, Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction
Stars Niketa Roman, Satish Ratakonda, Alex Cox
Directed by Phil Tippett

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
Significant Other review: a scary kind of love
Maika Monroe stares at the camera while lying down.

Forests can be scary. Love can be even scarier. Combine the two and throw in a few wild twists for good measure, and you get Significant Other, a uniquely terrifying thriller about a couple whose romantic hike in the woods takes an unexpected turn when they begin to suspect they might not be alone in the wilds.

Written and directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, Significant Other casts Maika Monroe (It Follows) and Jake Lacy (The White Lotus) as Ruth and Harry, respectively, a young couple who head off into the forests of the Pacific Northwest for some hiking and camping. Harry intends to propose to Ruth, but the pair's adventure takes a deadly turn when they discover something sinister in the woods.

Read more
Werewolf By Night review: magnificent monster mayhem
Gael Garcia Bernal stares intently in a black and white scene from Werewolf By Night.

There was a period in the 1960s when Marvel Comics ruled the world of monsters. Series like Tales to Astonish and Journey Into Mystery introduced readers to one terrifying -- and typically, giant-sized -- creature after another, years before Marvel turned its full attention to superhero stories.

The ubiquitous success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe these days seems poised to transform Marvel's monster era into a relic of simpler (and perhaps, weirder) times, but Disney's Werewolf By Night suggests the studio isn't ready to cast it aside just yet.

Read more
Tár review: Cate Blanchett soars in Todd Field’s ambitious new drama
Cate Blanchett conducts music while wearing a suit in TÁR.

“Had she said no, the film would never have seen the light of day,” director Todd Field said in a statement about his ambitious new drama, Tár. He was, of course, talking about the film’s star, Cate Blanchett, whose reputation as one of Hollywood’s greatest living actresses certainly precedes her at this point. Despite that fact, it would be easy to initially shrug off Field’s comment as nothing more than a pandering or superficial remark. After all, what director wouldn’t say that about the lead star of their film, especially someone of Blanchett’s caliber?

Having seen Tár, though, the truth of Field’s comment is undeniably clear. In order for it to cast any kind of spell, Tár requires a performer with Blanchett’s charismatic, towering presence. It demands someone who can not only disappear into a character, but who can do so and still be able to command every scene partner who has the misfortune of being pitted against her. Blanchett does that and more in Tár.

Read more