Mad God is a descent to hell, in the best possible way

Mad God is a descent to hell, in the best possible way
From crazy god (2021), dir. Phil Tippett (all images courtesy of Exile PR)

The field of animation is littered with unfulfilled passion projects that were decades in the (un)making. There’s Richard Williams’s The Thief and the Shoemaker (made over 29 years, started in 1964 and finally taken from him in 1992 before a horribly compromised release in 1993), Paul Grimault’s The King and the Mockingbird (32-year production, begun in 1948 and finally completed as intended in 1980), and Yuri Norstein’s the overcoat (41 years) and more, started in 1981 and is still going – hang in there, Yuri). Rare and delightful is it that a lengthy animated project actually materializes, but that has now happened with Phil Tippett’s Crazy God. The visual effects guru (you know his work from) Star Wars, RoboCop, Jurassic Park, and more) originally began production of the stop-motion film in 1990. After a hiatus of several decades, many other stops and starts, and a successful Kickstarter campaign, he was finally able to complete it last year. It was worth the wait.

From crazy god

Fully unfold without spoken dialogue, crazy god contains a highly ambiguous, more than a little allegorical story in which a gas-masked figure identified by reference materials as “The Assassin” goes deeper and deeper into an infernal landscape, intent on delivering a suitcase bomb to…somewhere. He’s apparently an agent in enemy territory, but this seems less of a war-ravaged world than a world determined by war, in which there may or may not be who knows how many “sides”, but the point is the eternal, ugly conflict itself. The longer it goes on, the more distant the original, simple goal of “delivering the bomb” becomes, as the film indulges in increasingly nightmarish visuals that are both sickening in its ferocity and impressive in its creativity.

From crazy god

My earlier pregnancy/birth metaphor may be cliche, but it’s almost poignantly appropriate for a movie as physically physical as this one. Stop-motion, a form built around fabricating small worlds and then shooting them one frame at a time, is generally seen in terms of object-oriented artifices – clay, fabric, metal, puppets and the like. Not only have I never seen a stop motion movie like this biological, but I really couldn’t imagine such a movie being possible. The creatures that inhabit this world—some vaguely humanoid, but many of them beastly assemblages of eyes, wings, tails, mouths, and… other things—drool, cry, bleed, ooze, crunch, glisten, and spit in every way of fluids and viscera. A steamroller crushes hapless mummy-like drones that burst wet when squashed. A huge infantile tyrant poops liquid into the even bigger machine he’s strapped into. A character undergoes a torturous operation in which their bodies are completely evacuated (and it turns out they have more than just organs inside them). The film feels “alive” and in Tippett’s vision, living beings are just waiting for a gruesome death.

From crazy god

All of this may sound like immature heavy metal album cover attitude, but Tippett draws from a dizzying array of inspiration for a project that, in his barbed wire-wrapped heart, deals with the horror of dehumanization in a simple, elemental way. It is Bosch through artists like Francis Bacon, Zdzisław Beksiński and HR Giger. This is all the more impressive considering that many of crazy godthe world is made with found objects – things Tippett took from around the house or reused from previous projects. When interviewed, he cites Joseph Cornell’s surrealist assemblage as an influence. The macabre is hardly unfamiliar territory for stop motion; Tippett operates in a register known to the esteem of filmmakers such as Henry Selick, Paul Berry and the Brothers Quay. But in addition to his uniquely grotesque sensibility, he also introduces an amazing sense of scale into his animation. It’s sometimes hard to believe you’re looking at dioramas and puppets. The many buildings, landscapes and terrifying leviathans are convincing monumental, amplifying the ubiquitous sense of doom. The clever framing and especially the complicated soundscape help with this effect. This is a film of tiny creatures making echoes that whisper to a void.

crazy god can frustrate those seeking a conventional plot or become repetitive in its unchanging rhythms. But it’s unique in its vision, in a way few movies can accurately be called that. And given its lengthy production history, it feels amazing that it even exists. Though given the subject matter, that is indeed a very obscure miracle.

crazy god opens June 10 in select theaters and streams on Shudder June 16.

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