Bad Milo! (2014)

Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

The prologue to Bad Milo! ends with the camera zooming into the gaping, screaming mouth of Duncan Hayslip (Ken Marino), before taking a CGI-rendered journey down Duncan’s oesophagus and through his gastrointestinal tract as the opening credits roll. It is an apt introduction to a film obsessed with the body’s orifices and internal passages, whether used for digestion or reproduction.

Cut to 123 hours earlier, and we see an ultrasound of a shape in a belly – only this is not the gravid womb of Duncan’s wife Sarah (Gillian Jacobs), but a growth in Duncan’s colon. Harassed by his unctuous boss (Patrick Warburton), annoyed by an office colleague (Erik Charles Nielsen), forcefed spicy food – and excruciating sexual conversation – by his mother (Mary Kay Place) and her much younger husband (Kumail Nanjiani), and still harbouring deep resentment towards the father (Stephen Root) who abandoned him as a child, the overstressed Duncan suffers an extreme form of dyspepsia. When our tight-arsed hero’s pent-up emotions take on the physical form of a cute but murderous creature (dubbed Milo) that lives up Duncan’s rectum, Duncan turns to unconventional therapist Highsmith (Peter Stormare) for help, hoping to learn how best to accommodate his now unchecked and monstrously manifest feelings before they hurt the ones he loves.

With its focus on the alimentary canal played strictly for gross-out laughs, Bad Milo! is a comedy body horror that still somehow ends up, for all its fart jokes and anal gags, being both smart and even sweet. For at issue here is not just how nice-guy Duncan takes a sheet from his boss’ book in learning to take a dump on his enemies, but also how a man hitherto terrified of having children suddenly finds himself a reluctant parent to, well, Milo, and having to bond with and discipline a kid who has a propensity to act out rather aggressively. So what starts as a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde slasher ends as a father-and-son buddy flick.

Director/co-writer Jacob Vaughan’s obvious reference points are David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) and Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982) and Brain Damage (1988), with a hefty dose of Gremlins (1984) and Ghoulies (1984) thrown in for good measure – but none of these films ever combined anger management with the perennial question of how a man might handle being pregnant and giving birth. Bad Milo! is disgusting and grotesque, but also funny throughout, and amiable precisely because of its great affection for even the most odious of its characters, as befits a film so preoccupied with arseholes. Also, it boasts a wonderfully over-the-top Elfman-esque score by Ted Masur to complete its lovingly crafted evocation of icky Eighties excess.

Anton Bitel