This past weekend I was able to digitally attend the 2022 Overlook Film Festival, which granted me the privilege of placing my lucky eyes on some fantastic genre cinema. Drug traffickers, puppets, disgraced streamers, live-in caretakers – there were a lot of sights to see, and not a single one was a stinker. Enjoy some capsule reviews!
Mad God (dir. – Phil Tippett)
As a feat of sheer creative energy, there’s nothing in this world quite like Mad God. Production for this stop-motion/puppetry/live-action brain melter began over three decades ago, and now, here in 2022, it has reached completion. The legendary FX whiz Phil Tippett has pulled out all of the stops in creating a colorful, imaginative world of beasties and ghouls, with a level of detail that feels impossible, even with a multi-decade lead.
What’s it about? Well, that’s hard to say. Like Fantasia, Heavy Metal, and Fantastic Planet before it, the story of Mad God seems to have a cohesive whole, despite being presented in a sort of faux-vignette fashion. There’s no direct plot per se, but the material suggests an exploration of hierarchy as a social force, with creation being the ultimate act of rebelliousness against our collective mortality. Or maybe it’s just a legendary artist throwing every cool thing he could come up with at the wall. Either way, it’s something to see.
Tippett has a credit on just about every legendary effects-driven picture you can think of, and his experience shows through in his direction. When it comes to puppetry and stop-motion, it’s very easy to stray from thoughtful shot composition — from cinema itself, but Mad God is as pure cinema as pure cinema can get. So fluid and decadent is the camerawork that it’s easy to forget that what we’re seeing was mostly created one frame at a time. Ray Harryhausen would be proud.
Fans of alt-cinema will recognize the face of one of our few human performers as belonging to Alex Cox, a mad god in his own right, whose considerably twisted brain gave us Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, and perhaps the most baffling film I’ve ever seen: Tombstone-Rashomon. His cratered face fits in right along with the inhabitants of this freakish world, and it’s his character that seems most likely to be the titular Mad God.
The creatives in the audience are sure to be inspired by Tippett’s insane devotion to this creation, while even the most imaginatively inert viewer is sure to be blown away by the experience. Yes, it’s all vibes, as the kiddies say, but these vibes aren’t even remotely sus (I am old and I am trying). Mad God is a legendary artists colorful imagination brought to life in full color. A vision as pure as this is something to celebrate indeed.
Good Madam (dir. – Jenna Cato Bass)
“So we should pretend not to be here even when we are?”
This potent question is asked by Tsidi to her mother Mavis as she receives the rules and regulations of her new home. You see, Mavis works as a live-in caretaker for Diane, an ailing white woman in post-apartheid South Africa. It’s a job that Mavis takes seriously, since not only has she grown to care about Diane to a degree, but because her boss’s well being is what keeps Mavis, and now her daughter and granddaughter, under a roof.
There is to be no running in the house. Tsidi must only use certain glassware. Don’t ask questions. Per Tsidi, her mother is living in her own form of apartheid, complete with rules that keep her family and that of Diane’s forever at odds. This causes tension for Tsidi’s family at large, which manifests in a series of terrifying visions which plague Tsidi as she tries to reconcile living in a home with a history of tragedy and trauma.
This moody South African film proves to be a more compelling family drama than it is a horror film, which isn’t to say that the horror elements aren’t effective, but that the way they are integrated into the plot feels lacking. There’s a full on terror flick here, as well as a thoughtful study of generational trauma, but the two satisfying halves don’t always make for a compelling whole. Still, the imagery and soundscape create a spell that’s easy to fall under, even if it doesn’t come together as well as it wants to.
Where Good Madam shines is in the performances, namely that of our lead actress Chumisa Cosa, who wears every bit of stress on her expressive face, without ever losing a strong sense of the love she has for those under her care.
Films such as this give a window into a world that I, for one, lack the cultural context to fully understand, but which also serve as a tool through which those like myself can become accustomed to a different existence, a different way of life. For that alone, Good Madam is worth anyone’s time, and has inspired me to do the required cultural research in order to gain more from a second viewing, but I do wish it leaned harder into either of the two genres between which it dances.