Bad Milo! (2013)
Dir: Jacob Vaughan
Written By: Jacob Vaughan, Benjamin Hayes
Starring: Ken Marino, Gillian Jacobs, Patrick Warburton, Mary Kay Place
UK release: Frightfest 2014
An unlucky man, sick of his humdrum life, finds his world turned upside down when acute stomach pains result in a tiny creature crawling out of his rectum and wreaking havoc on those deemed to have wronged him.
When it was first announced as part of the Frightfest schedule, Bad Milo seemed like an odd choice, mainly because it was already available on Netflix at the time. But creature features were big business at this year’s festival, with Zombeavers and Wolfcop boasting full houses, among others. A substantial crowd assembled to watch Milo and, given how inescapably funny, sweet and odd it is, it’s not difficult to see why. It may not be this generation’s Gremlins, but Milo could totally be our Gizmo.
The likeable Ken Marino (who revels in playing the everyman) is Duncan, a normal, easygoing kind of dude, who is constantly antagonised by his boss and co-workers at his dead end job, and unable to shake the resulting anxiousness in his stomach, thought to be brought on by stress. His long-suffering wife, Sarah (played by Community’s Gillian Jacobs, in an underwritten role) encourages him to take it easy but things just keep going wrong until eventually, the titular Milo pops out of Duncan’s bum and sets about making things right. Or, worse, depending on your perception of, for example, biting someone’s dick off in an alleyway as a method of problem-solving.
It goes without saying that Bad Milo is a very strange little film, but what’s most surprising about it – aside from the creature crawling into and out of the main character’s anus – is how sweet, heart-warming and clever it is. When a film has been hanging around Netflix for a while, before popping up randomly at a festival, it’s pretty safe to assume it isn’t worth bothering with but Milo is that rare find, a horror comedy totally aware of its own silliness and willing to exploit that for all its worth.
Of course, it helps that Milo himself is adorable, in an evil Gizmo kind of way, and that the creature SFX on him are practical. According to an interview in The Hollywood Reporter, master puppeteers were consulted prior to the little guy’s creation, including the guy behind Slimer, which is arguably one of the most well-known cinematic creations of all time. Director Jacob Vaughan, who co-wrote the film with Benjamin Hayes, was adamant that the creature had to look real. CGI wouldn’t do, and as crazy as it is in the current landscape, his desire to utilise the skills of a proper puppeteer really make Milo resonate even further.
The creature is basically the physical manifestation of Duncan’s id, and when he consults a psychiatrist, it transpires that deep-seated issues with his father may have contributed to his current situation even more than he thought. This leads to a ludicrous, yet hugely entertaining, reveal in the final act as Duncan struggles to save his family from Milo while simultaneously facing up to what he really is.
A wonderful score, by Ted Masur – who is also responsible for the music of a film named Cop Dog – gives the movie a feeling of being light on its feet, while the script is so filled with zingers it demands an immediate re-watch. When challenged to be more assertive, for example, Duncan deadpans that he’s an accountant and, as a result, doesn’t “know the first thing about humans”.
Marino is wonderful as the downtrodden Duncan (he’s like an even more hopeless Michael Bluth, if that’s humanly possible), but Patrick Warburton steals every scene as his horrible boss who, when we first meet him, is happily relocating Duncan to his new office in the men’s toilets, alongside another colleague. He’s joyously sadistic, and even though we know he’ll get what’s coming to him, it’s hard not to wish he couldn’t stick around a bit longer.
Gillian Jacobs is sadly underused, though thankfully not relegated to the role of nagging housewife, which is encouraging, while Mary Kay Place has a great time as Duncan’s horny, TMI mother who’s recently shacked up with a younger man and just loves talking about it over dinner. Of course, the real star of the show is Milo himself, who is so well-realised, he’s impossible to hate even when he’s being, as the title suggests, very, very bad.
In fact, when Duncan is forced to try to bond with him – thereby giving him the name Milo – it’s hard to understand why he’s finding it so difficult because the little guy is adorable. Puppetry and practical SFX are clearly making a comeback in horror, given the work Creature Effects did on Zombeavers and the practical transformation sequences in Wolfcop, to name just a couple, and it’s wonderful to see another director choosing to make his monster more three-dimensional because it adds more pathos to an already sweet story.
Bad Milo is an instant classic of the much-maligned horror comedy crossover subgenre hybrid. Sweet, funny and with a few frights up its sleeve too, it is relentlessly charming and full of heart, even in spite of its gruesome premise, the money shot of which truly must be seen to be believed.
Seek it out on Netflix now and try to resist purchasing your own little Milo as a result.