Bad Milo! (2013)
Director: Jacob Vaughan
Writers: Benjamin Hayes, Jacob Vaughn
Starring: Ken Marino, Gillian Jacobs, Peter Stormare, Patrick Warburton
Bad Milo! is not a movie anyone is likely to label as “classy.” Most would deem its subject matter inherently unsophisticated, considering its basis in… colonic comedy… gastrointestinal guffaws… bowel buffoonery…
But the truth is that it’s a clever, well-plotted, thematically layered horror comedy. It is bolstered by a very strong comedic cast, lead by Ken Marino (The State) and featuring Gillian Jacobs (Community), Mary Kay Place (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), Toby Huss (The Adventures of Pete and Pete, King of the Hill), Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld, Family Guy), Peter Stormare (Fargo, The Big Lebowski) and Stephen Root (News Radio, King of the Hill, Office Space).
Duncan (Marino), an accountant, is a bundle of stress, and this is just exacerbating his life-long bowel issues. His boss (Warburton) has forced him to take on the task of firing a large portion of the company’s staff. His mother (Place) is pressuring him to have a baby, even inviting a fertility doctor to a family dinner with Duncan and his wife, Sarah (Jacobs). A doctor (Huss) has identified what he believes is a polyp in Duncan’s colon, and cautions him to learn to relax.
At Sarah’s urging, Duncan visits a hypnotist, Highsmith (Stormare), but Duncan is not open to the process. In fact, Duncan’s not very open with anyone.
One night, after Duncan learns that a co-worker accidentally destroyed a project into which he has invested a year of his life, a monster emerges from Duncan’s rectum. It seeks out and kills the co-worker, before returning to its… home.
A unique approach to therapy
As more killings occur, Duncan turns for help to Highsmith, who relates the creature to ancient myths about demons emerging from the body. He warns Duncan that the monster is an extension of his psyche, and killing it would harm Duncan himself, comparing the likely outcome to a lobotomy. He suggests, instead, that Duncan should learn to control the thing by bonding with it, even suggesting that Duncan name it. Duncan chooses to call it Milo, explaining that it’s a name that Sarah likes.
Eventually, Highsmith discovers that the root of Duncan’s issues lies with Duncan’s father (Root), who abandoned the family in Duncan’s early childhood. Their first confrontation proves stressful enough that Milo emerges, but for the first time Duncan is able – at least partly – to rein him in.
However, as the situation at work becomes worse, Duncan loses that control, and when he learns that Sarah is pregnant, he decides he must leave, for the safety of his family.
Making peace with one’s demons
Slowly, Duncan begins to take control of the situation with Milo, until Milo learns about Sarah’s pregnancy. Suddenly, Milo becomes more ferocious than ever, and in order to protect his family, Duncan must confront his emergent demon and reconcile himself with his past.
With its focus on the abject as an externalization of psychological angst, and its elements of sickness and medicine, psychoanalysis, reproduction, and dysfunctional families, Bad Milo! plays as a broadly comedic take on the 70s and 80s work of David Cronenberg. It is most markedly reminiscent of The Brood (1979), but also bears similarities with Shivers (1975), Scanners (1981), The Fly (1986) and Dead Ringers (1988). In places, it also suggests the influence of Basket Case (Frank Henenlotter, 1982).
Even with a solid script and an excellent cast (Stormare is a particular stand-out), much depends upon the effectiveness of Milo himself (voiced by Steve Zissis). Fortunately, the puppets used to portray Milo are extremely expressive and agile, capable of a wide range of movements; and they interact convincingly with the human cast. Milo manages to be threatening, sympathetic (at times even endearing), and very funny in turn.
Crass as its central concept may seem, Bad Milo! is a smart, funny, and even touching horror comedy, with a relatable leading man and some very quotable dialogue.
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