The 2021 Fantasia Film Festival wrapped a little over a week ago now, and today I’ve got a pair of reviews on tap from the fest that feature two truly audacious genre-bending projects that I highly recommend fans keep an eye out for in the coming months. So, read on to check out my thoughts on Phil Tippett’s stop-motion masterpiece Mad God and the twisty-turny sci-fi thriller Ultrasound from Rob Schroeder.
Mad God: A film 30 years in the making, Phil Tippett’s Mad God is truly a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience that I’d liken to meeting the maniacal and menacing love child of Ray Harryhausen, Hieronymus Bosch, and The City of Lost Children. Like an esoteric descent into the deepest, darkest pits of hell, Mad God is a haunting journey highlighting the atrocities of war, the drain of capitalism, and the danger of politics as it follows a variety of characters traversing through an array of atrocious environments, and nearly all of has been brought to life via stop-motion animation. Mad God is a wondrous achievement for Tippett that also feels like the type of singular creative expression we just don’t see much of anymore these days.
A master of creature creation, it was during RoboCop when Tippett first began working on Mad God, looking to tell an ambitious story that was all his own using miniatures and old-school stop-motion techniques. And even though he had shelved the project for a while during his Jurassic Park days, since he had thought that the digitization of the dinos in there was going to curtail his career, Tippett continued to work on Mad God sporadically in the following decades. It was after seeing the state of the world in the last few years that Tippett found himself inspired to complete his passion project, and the results are absolutely stunning.
A madcap and macabre kitchen sink experience created by one of the most innovative effects designers to ever work in Hollywood, Mad God is at times disgusting and depraved, and others, hauntingly gorgeous, but the visual journey that Tippett takes viewers on is never dull. Beyond Mad God’s intriguing characters, the environments that are showcased throughout the film are equally impressive, where you almost want to pause the film repeatedly just so you can absorb all the details that Tippett has lovingly peppered throughout his masterpiece. Some folks may not appreciate the abstract nature of Mad God, but to me, being able to interpret the thematic layers of Tippett’s visual storytelling here makes this a film I’m excited to immerse myself in over and over again in the future.
Movie Rating: 4/5
Ultrasound: I’ve now watched Ultrasound twice and I think I loved it even more so the second time around. Written by Conor Stechschulte and directed by Rob Schroeder, Ultrasound is a bit of a mind-melter that takes a lot of unexpected turns and admittedly, made absolutely no sense to me until about the halfway point of the story. But once Ultrasound gets there, and all the tumblers of the lock fall into place, that’s when Schroder’s mystery hits its stride, and it goes from “good” to “great.” So many people are going to try and compare Ultrasound to the work of Christopher Nolan, but to me, it felt more like a long-lost episode of The X-Files in its heyday, and as an X-Files nerd, that’s a HUGE compliment.
Trying to provide a plot summary for Ultrasound is extremely challenging, and it would also reveal some of the film’s surprises, so all I will say is that the story involves an unintended pregnancy, two bewildered lovers (played by Vincent Kartheiser and Chelsea Lopez), a master manipulator (Bob Stephenson) and an underground medical facility at the center of it all. Those dots may not necessarily seem like they would connect, and for nearly half of the movie they don’t feel like they do, but once all the cards are on the table in Ultrasound, that’s when I knew I was watching something crafted by a confident filmmaker who knows exactly how to pull the strings of his viewers.
The entire ensemble of Ultrasound is unilaterally excellent here, but both Lopez and Breeda Wool are the film’s standouts, as they add so much to the material with their calculating and nuanced performances. There’s a scene involving Wool’s character Shannon on an extremely frustrating phone call that I think is easily one of the film’s most pivotal moments, and probably the most relatable scene for many of us, and Wool’s command of that entire sequence is like watching a masterclass in acting. She’s totally brilliant, and the pathos in Lopez’s performance provides Ultrasound with its heart.
If you’re someone who enjoys movies that will completely knock you on your ass out of nowhere, I cannot recommend Ultrasound enough. I’d also highly recommend just skipping any trailers for it and go into Ultrasound as fresh as possible, so you too can have a chance of this unpredictable sci-fi/thriller mash-up totally blindsiding you in the best possible way as it did me.
Movie Score: 4/5