EIFF film review: Mad God
Mark Harrison | On 24, Aug 2021
Director: Phil Tippett
Cast: Alex Cox, Niketa Roman, Satish Ratakonda, Harper Taylor
Where to watch Mad God Lane online in the UK: EIFF 2021
This film is streaming as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. For more information on the line-up and how it works, click here.
With influences ranging from Ray Harryhausen to Hieronymus Bosch, Mad God is the brainchild and directorial debut of Oscar-winning visual-effects supervisor Phil Tippett. Having started work on the independent project in 1990, the dialogue-free stop-motion feature is the product of three decades of work. And it’s absolutely bananas.
Taking a willfully narrative-lite approach, the film charts a singular vision of Hell itself, with all the rancid detail that entails. It begins with a biblical passage from the book of Leviticus (one of the all-around surlier books of the Old Testament to begin with) and a character dubbed “the Assassin”, a gas-masked, bowler-hatted cipher who descends into the underworld via diving bell.
Across its 83-minute running time, the film’s hellscape is by turns blackly comic and flat-out disturbing – early on, we see generations of faceless mud-people accelerated to brief and violent effect, their pointless deaths fuelling yet more pointless births in an ever-decreasing circle of life. It’s ashes to ashes, dust to dust, stinking mulch to stinking mulch.
This is dark and gnarly stuff, obviously taking full advantage of Tippett’s career in designing and modelling creature effects to make the carnage artfully disgusting. The visuals are nicely (well, not that nicely) backed up by the audio, whether it’s composer Dan Wood’s ominous score or the uniquely off-putting choice of using human baby noises as the voices of various beasts and phantoms.
The lack of dialogue complements the overall lack of narrative. The film is abstract in the most literal sense, focusing on ideas rather than events and using the visual medium to convey a feature’s worth of senseless violence and destruction. It’s almost overwhelming early on, but as it’s so unusual from the off, it’s possible for it to become one-note the longer it goes on. There are dazzling moments throughout the runtime, but it does become less surprising as it goes.
Backed by unforgettable design and effects, Mad God embraces the sweaty unpleasantness of its nightmare world and elevates it to an art form. It’s a true art-for-art’s-sake epic in under 90 minutes. Perhaps it’s not destined for a wider audience but, once you’re in it, there’s no denying its engrossing grossness, nor its muggy commitment to infernal artistry.
Mad God is available to rent at the Edinburgh International Film Festival until 5.35pm on Tuesday 24th August. Book tickets here.