Animated flourishes and a delicate backdrop, animation like that is always doomed for streaming services. Creativity is an ill beast. Mad God is a dangerous one. A fun one too. Its ambience and hellish dream, orchestral voices echoing through the opening sequence that feels just a little like a John Romero Doom-era vision is exactly the right tone for this maddening spiral into animated mastery. A feature that feels the aesthetic qualities of H.R. Geiger and the depressed, permanent madness of apocalyptic fiction and all the bells and whistles desperately attached to it. No escape for Mad God, despite its unique form. Apocalyptic underworlds are the zombies of yesterday and the true crime of tomorrow.
A long, long crawl further and further down into the depths gives Mad God an enchanting feel. As the explosions above ground start to cease, director Phil Tippett makes sure to mark the underworld as something far worse. Flak cannons and the beam of a spotlight are much preferred to gnarly, diseased monsters flailing as best they can at the unnamed assassin found stalking Fallout 3-styled streets. Clay stop-motion will always have some feverish quality to it, and the effect within Mad God is a blur of what is real and live-action against what is not. Tippett’s blend of those realities is engaging and often works in the favour of colourful moments that hope to bring that apocalyptic flair to the forefront.
But there are times when that flair isn’t taken far enough. That, or it fails to understand the reason for a scene or impact it can have later on. Mad God takes a confident stride in looking unique and engaging, but cannot link that to its story or fundamental narrative meaning every time. Still, Mad God finds it relatively easy to look good. That much it can do with ease because of its animated style and the flourishes it so frequently relies on. Beyond that though, there isn’t much depth to a relatively simple story. Artistic flourishes keep it alive and moving, which is far better than letting it wilt and become an unfocused, apocalyptic-themed mess. An active realisation that the plot isn’t all that special means focus drifts to the aesthetic. That can only go so far.
Hopeful it is to see animated features take risk after risk; it is a shame Mad God will not entirely capture the wider audience. It is Frank & Zed but with a darker, truer heart and far less pastiche of the popular genres found within Mad God. A hopeful experience, a terrifying one as well. There are moments in Mad God that get by on the heartfelt dedication alone. Other moments feel wounded and frail, touching upon deeply rooted nostalgia for shows long-forgotten or imagined in dreams of the youth. How terrifying Mad God is depends almost entirely on what an audience fears. For those that remember the gas mask episode of Doctor Who, the video game Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee and hold a sound fear of the ocean, Mad God will work wonders. For those that don’t, no matter, it’s still a finely-tuned animated horror that provides a fear in the unique and unknown.