Written by: Benjamin Hayes, Jacob Vaughan
Directed by: Jacob Vaughan
Starring: Ken Marino, Gillian Jacobs, and Peter Stormare
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Embrace your inner demon.
Iím starting to wonder if Iíve lost the stomach to be a horror fan. I donít mean to say the genre has grown too dull or too grossóitís just that I find myself to be more squeamish lately. Maybe it has something to do with being on the other side of 30 (related: Phil Nobile has some excellent thoughts on this), and itís just not as cool to watch bodily trauma anymore since it feels more and more like an inevitability. Even something like Bad Miloówhich is a total tongue-in-cheek romp about a demonic digestive tractóhas me squirming these days. When horror-comedies start doing this, you begin to wonder. Then again, it could just be that I have a personal aversion to butt stuff, and I probably have cringed at Bad Milo at any age. I probably would have made a shitty proctologist is what Iím saying.
Bad Milo opens in an uncomfortable place (discomfort is one of its motifs): the doctorís office, where Duncan (Ken Marino) and his wife Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) are attempting to get to the bottom of the formerís digestive problems. It turns out that Ken is a tight-ass, both literally and figuratively speaking. Going to the bathroom is difficult because heís perpetually stressed out, and itís resulted in a polyp, which Duncanís doctor cheerfully points out via rectal cam footage (meanwhile, my face is, like, ghost white at this point). Life doesnít get much easier for Duncan: Sarah is ready to start a baby, his step-father (Kumail Nanjiani) is a dick, his biological father (Stephen Root) remains estranged, and his boss (Patrick Warburton) has just demoted him to a low-grade position stationed in a renovated bathroom. When it all becomes too much, Duncanís ass produces an honest-to-god gremlin that serves as an extension of his psyche.
Despite his psychologistís (a suitably kooky Peter Stormare!) assessment that itís all metaphorical, it decidedly is not: when conjured up (er, out?), this demon has the capacity to exact revenge on anyone who has ever wronged Duncan. And be conveniently mistaken for a rabid raccoon, according to the news reports that follow each rampage. As Ranier Wolfcastle might say, ďthatís the jokeĒ of Bad Milo: Ken Marino has a butt goblin that does his gory bidding. Itís the latest in a rich crop of recent movies looking to coast on an absurd premise by hammering on one silly note; the difference here, at least, is that its firmly committed to its characters and concept. In lesser (read: Syfy, The Asylum) hands, Bad Milo is titled Ass Demon and premieres on a Saturday night, readymade for ironic viewings and Twitter snark.
In director Jacob Vaughanís hands, itís a surprisingly sweet little movie. Duncanís demonówhich is dubbed Miloóhas a mean streak that isnít inherent; itís just that he often finds himself acting as a repressed id. When heís not feeding on anyone who annoys the hell out of Duncan, he coos and giggles, sort of like Gizmo. Miloís brought to life with some wonderful animatronics that will further recall the glory days of practical effects, and it goes a long way in making him an endearing and indelible creature. He is, of course, a metaphor after all, not only for Duncanís latent, violent tendencies, but also for his masculine and paternal anxieties. Milo is a projection for whatever fears Duncan obviously harbors about parenthood, and thereís a stretch of the film that plays like Eraserhead if it were re-imagined by Troma.
Other stretches just play out like straight-up Troma, albeit on a budget that Lloyd Kaufman has rarely been able to afford. Bad Milo is about as gross as its premise entails, as stomach gremlins donít exactly devour their victims in a mannerly fashion. Blood, guts, and fecal matter are sprayed about quite abundantly, and thereís an ample amount of uncomfortable discussions about colonoscopies and the logistics of Duncanís ability to squeeze Milo back up his butt when heís through. Thankfully, weíre spared visual conformation, so we just have to go with it. Which is exactly what Vaughan and company do anyway: this isnít one of those films thatís constantly winking and elbowing you in the guts to point out how outlandish or crazy it is. Everyone mostly shrugs at the revelation of this little shit-critter, which is probably funnier. Well, it's definitely funnier when Duncanís mom (Mary Kay Place) confirms that she suspected its existence all along.
Some other, similarly understated moments also had me chuckling, but I donít know that I ever laughed out loud or even continuously giggled. Considering the cast, thatís sort of surprising because this really is an all-star assemblage of under-appreciated talent, starting at the top with Marino. He quite effectively plays against typeótypically, heís the outrageous asshole in a film like this, but he proves be pretty apt at taking on a more deadpan, milquetoast persona. Duncan has to be a sympathetic character for Bad Milo to succeed at all, and Marino shoulders that with ease.
Most of the surrounding cast gets its moment or two as well, with most of the humor deriving from the clash of personalities. Nanjiani and Marino have an especially humorous bit at the dinner table, while Warburton is working his typical meathead gimmick in a role of the super-dick boss. Stormare is an eternal delight regardless of his roles, but heís having an especially good time here, where he just throws himself right into the filmís oddness. Appropriately, Root helps to form the filmís sweet center. Heís playing a deadbeat dad, but heís not beyond redemption because Root does the ďcranky old man with a heart of goldĒ pretty well. Most disappointing, however, is how the film nearly wastes Gillian Jacobs completely. The script gives her some nice opportunities to do some subtle work at the beginning, but she practically disappears until the climax, where she becomes the wife-in-peril. Having been a fan of Jacobsís work on Community for several years now (she is seriously one of the funniest people on the planet) I had hoped to see her really shine here; itís too bad she was never given much of a chance.
Otherwise, Bad Milo more or less does its concept justice, even if itís not as outrageously funny as expected. You can sense a little bit of early Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson in it, though: thereís a scene with Milo terrorizing someone in a basement that feels obviously inspired by The Evil Dead, and it carries itself with the same sort of reckless, blood-spattered abandon as something like Dead Alive. Vaughan has a good feel for the manic, off-kilter energy required for something like Bad Milo, which is a better horror film than it is a comedy. It even looks the part by eschewing the typically flat, over-lit compositions of the latter in favor of a layer of grit, dark shadows, and frenzied camerawork. Really, itís sort of the heir-apparent to the screwy allegories of Frank Henenlotter, but, again, it skews more towards the sweet side. Surprisingly, Bad Milo is just about family in the end. Rent it!
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