The idea that a movie involving a pint-sized, murderous demon living in a stressed-out office drone's colon could also be a funny and sometimes-tender film about the fears and anxieties associated with adulthood, becoming a father, and the scars stemming from childhood abandonment sounds a little more than farfetched, and yet that's exactly what comes from director Jacob Vaughn's unconventional horror-comedy 'Bad Milo!'
Ken Marino ('In a World…', 'Party Down') stars as Duncan, a middle-rung office worker at a financial company run by Patrick Warburton at his ego-maniacal, deadpan best. Stressed-out at the prospect of sharing an office converted from a men's room with a hapless, moronic co-worker, in order to begin the process of laying-off several of the company's employees, Ducan's gastrointestinal issues begin to flare up and then worsen upon the realization he's not as ready as his wife Sarah (Gillian Jacobs, 'Community'), when it comes to the idea of starting a family. The work/life imbalance is thrown further off course when a dinner with his mother (Mary Kay Place) and her sexually adventurous younger husband Bobbi (Kumail Nanjiani) ends in with a fertility doctor stopping by to offer some sound medical advice on why Duncan has been unsuccessful in impregnating his wife.
The more conventional side of 'Bad Milo!' is the tale of an everyman whose natural inclination toward geniality and staunch refusal to stir the pot winds up with him being at best, passively ignored, and at worst, completely cowed into submission by everyone, including his own personal demon. The unconventional side to the film, then, is that demon, which erupts one night in what is incorrectly believed to be extreme gastrointestinal distress. While Duncan is passed out on the bathroom floor, the creature – a cross between the puppets from 'E.T.', 'Ghoulies,' and 'Critters' – runs amok, killing its host's cube-mate in gross, bloody fashion that the media hilariously blames on a rabid raccoon.
After seeking professional help from an eccentric hypnotist/therapist played by Peter Stormare ('Fargo,' 'Minority Report'), Duncan is soon face-to-face with his very own inner demon, which he names Milo and, at the urging of his analyst, attempts to begin a bonding process (which sort of is and sort of isn't exactly what you may think), in order to try an control the unrepressed id and quell its murderous impulses. This leads Duncan on a therapeutic quest to understand and control his own anxieties about responsibility and pending fatherhood, which require a confrontation with the pot-smoking father who abandoned him years ago. The outlandish conceit of the film is offset by this unexpectedly emotional center that, while thin, is portrayed as persuasively and taken as seriously as anything involving butt-borne monsters could possibly be.
Horror and comedy are two genres that generally work quite well together, as the line separating the two is oftentimes imperceptibly thin. Usually, though, the combination of the two inherently generates a cynical outlook with a tendency toward misanthropy. Eschewing pessimism for a script that unexpectedly matches its gore and bathroom humor with heartfelt undertones, Vaughan and his co-writer Benjamin Hayes turn a story about a world where everyone is so consumed with themselves they're unable to listen to, or care about the needs of anyone else – especially those whose anxieties about the needs of those around them lead to a life of repressed emotions and resentment. 'Bad Milo!' works largely because the cast – and, primarily Ken Marino – is willing to play their roles without doling out a steady stream of sly, knowing winks, even though most comedies today seem desperate to do just that.
The conviction Marino shows to his role allows the film its strongest segment, in which Duncan and Milo are forced into an unconventional father-son dynamic. Here, Duncan's fears about parenthood are met head-on, and the demonic polyp is treated less like a murderous monster and more like the child the film's protagonist never knew he was capable of handling. The segment is played largely for laughs, as Milo proves to have a frustratingly finicky palate, an unhealthy interest in television, and a propensity for creating havoc when Duncan is otherwise preoccupied, but the parallels drawn between fatherhood and the ridiculous circumstances of the film make it simultaneously heartwarming and hilarious. The section also tests the puppeteers as they strive to imbue their creation with distinctly childlike qualities that not only makes the jagged-toothed fiend highly sympathetic, but also paves the way for a surprisingly intimate and sincere conclusion that's less scatological than you might expect.
With its story revolving around an everyman protagonist and his peculiar companion, 'Bad Milo!' is, in some ways, a lot like, 'Ted' – except even with all the blood and bathroom humor, it doesn't come off half as gross, sophomoric, or indulgently smarmy. The movie gets plenty of laughs out of what is otherwise a one-note gag about a poor sap with an imp in his guts, and yet, by subtly converting Duncan's plight into a metaphor for poor coping mechanisms and the sometimes overwhelming nature of modern life and parenthood, 'Bad Milo!' also manages to get some meaningful mileage out of the very same joke.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Bad Milo!' comes from Magnolia Home Entertainment as a single 25GB Blu-ray disc in a eco-keepcase. As with most Magnolia releases, there are a handful of skippable previews before the top menu, and a sizeable amount of special features to choose from. The disc presents the film in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix.
The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer here is a rather uneven affair. Most of the time, the transfer offers a competent image that would please most audiences, but the image vacillates too often between close-ups filled with fine detail and wider shots that lose out on textures and seemingly fail to render defined edges. While there doesn't appear to be any filtering going on with 'Bad Milo!' the image has unnaturally desaturated colors that negatively impact skintones, making characters look slightly gray and pallid. Contrast is generally high, producing solid blacks with very good shadow delineation. Some of the whites tend to burn a little hotter than they should, which produces an irregularly bright daytime atmosphere. The image is also free from banding or issues with artifacts and noise, producing a clear and clean image most of the time that only seems to falter on occasion.
Shot on RED, 'Bad Milo!' is generally presented with a clean image that suffers occasionally from wide shots lacking definition and a lack of saturation at times that can negatively affect skintones and the film's overall color palate.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a deceptively good mix that offers clean, crisp voices first and foremost, but also includes a dynamic sound for a film that is largely wall-to-wall dialogue. There's not a lot going on outside of a few sound effects and a score by Ted Masur that's wonderfully evocative of Danny Elfman's work on 'Beetlejuice.' And yet, the mix finds a way to incorporate the rear channels and even some LFE with Milo's frenzied running, bloodletting, and the screams of his victims. There mix handles imaging and directionality quite well, zooming from cut to cut as people frantically search for their attacker, or Milo simply strikes head on.
Sound effects are spread out nicely and, when called for give the mix a nice sense of depth, as most produce a full-bodied sound, without overwhelming the other elements at play. This is a well-balanced mix that places the emphasis on dialogue, but not at the expense of everything else.
'Bad Milo!' is a surprisingly sweet, but still plenty gross and bloody horror-comedy that benefits greatly from the plucky performance of Ken Marino – who was seemingly unafraid to wholeheartedly embrace the weird and unpleasant aspects of the script. The film also benefits from using a physical puppet to create Milo, as his physical nature allows the actors a chance to interact with him, which makes the little guy a far more believable character had he been rendered later. Although the image is slightly above average, the sound is quite good and there are some fun supplements to round the experience out. Overall, 'Bad Milo!' comes recommended.