'Bad Milo' is not just a fun horror-comedy, but a delightfully absurd take on parenthood
Bad Milo! Magnet Releasing
Director: Jacob Vaughan
Screenplay: Jacob Vaughan and Benjamin Hayes
Starring: Ken Marino, Gillian Jacobs, Peter Stormare, Stephen Root, Mary Kay Place, Steve Zissis, Patrick Warburton and Kumail Nanjiani
Rated R / 1 hour, 25 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
It speaks well of Bad Milo! - a movie about an emotionally unstable creature living inside a man's anal cavity and wreaking havoc on those who upset him - that many of its best scenes don't involve the ass monster at all. It tells me that the filmmakers care about creating a full-bodied piece of deadpan comic absurdity, rather than a one-joke movie.
Many other horror-comedies along these same lines - or, for that matter, any type of movie with a harebrained premise - want that premise to do too much of the work by itself, so they end up just blandly biding time in between scenes where the gimmick finally comes into play. Bad Milo! eschews that customary laziness with sharply focused (and cheerfully coarse) filmmaking and perfect casting. We get scene after scene of characters dryly coming to grips with the situation at hand - or, in some cases, the emotional states that caused it.
You see, the creature that lives inside of Duncan (Ken Marino) - a mild-mannered accountant - is not merely an unfortunate growth. It is a part of his very soul, born of Duncan's suppressed fears and anxieties, until finally growing large enough to set out on its own and unleash vengeance. At first, Duncan just thinks he has run-of-the-mill stress-induced stomach problems. Maybe an ulcer can explain those 90-minute trips to the toilet. In a brilliant dinner scene early in the film, we see much of where his anxiety comes from. His mom (Mary Kay Place) has brought along her new husband Bobbi (Kumail Nanjiani, in a fantastic, and too-brief, performance), who not only makes everyone uncomfortable with his overt sex talk at the dinner table, but even suggests that Duncan - the much-older Duncan - could refer to him as "daddy."
As if Duncan's abandonment issues - stemming from the childhood departure of his deadbeat father (Stephen Root) - weren't bad enough already. What's great about the thought behind Bad Milo! is how perfectly the emergence of Duncan's little butt creature dovetails with his fear of fatherhood. His wife Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) wants a baby, and his mom wants them to have one even more. So much, in fact, that at the same dinner she's invited along a fertility doctor (Steve Zissis), who isn't shy about sharing details of his own sexual potency before shaming Duncan about his (nonexistent) impotence.
And so, when the beast, who will come to be named Milo, finally escapes from Duncan's insides for the first time, the fertility doctor is one of his first targets. Milo, who looks like a sort of shriveled alien fetus with shark-like layers of razor-sharp teeth, finds the good doctor in an alleyway and murders him in cold blood ... penis-first. Later on, Milo takes out Duncan's boss - played by (who else?) Patrick Warburton - in an office elevator.
The press catches on to the killings, hilariously coming to the conclusion that it is a series of raccoon attacks. Meanwhile, upon the urging of his wife and physician (Toby Huss, who, it must be said, comes up with a couple of utterly magnificent line readings), Duncan begins meeting with a therapist, Dr. Highsmith (Peter Stormare), who encourages him to bond with Milo like you would a child. (There are multiple shots that view Milo as, essentially, a newborn baby, from the subtle sound effects to the way he looks up, wide-eyed, at his host/father.)
Marino, the great comic performer and pathological scene-stealer from The State, Party Down, Role Models, In a World... and plenty more, is a great lead, his comically anxiety-stricken face a splendid tone-setter for the rest of the film. His versatility really sells the performance, as his warm, gentle expressions when he's bonding with Milo are just as convincing, even if they're tinged with irony.
Of course, the real star has to be Milo, designed as a fittingly grotesque and funny creature, which director and co-writer Jacob Vaughan uses for as much absurd effect as he can. What's great is how he embraces the obvious puppetry required for Milo, from the wide shots in which he leap-attacks, to the close-ups where he engages in hand-to-face combat with his soon-to-be victims. Vaughan also enhances Milo's personality with some great POV shots as the beast races toward his next target.
Every image of Milo would be enough to at least kinda sell me on Bad Milo! But Vaughan, co-writer Benjamin Hayes and the entire cast don't let themselves get away with tossing up a silly idea and a funny-looking puppet. They find a way to milk the concept for all of its ridiculous metaphorical value ("This is the furthest thing from a metaphor!" Duncan insists). And hey, maybe I can relate to Duncan just a little bit. Ask anyone who knows me - I, too, hold my anxieties inside. Maybe I, too, have an ass monster. Maybe we all have an ass monster.