WORDS James Gracey
With its pint-sized menace, light comedic tone, buckets of splatter and irreverent humour, Jacob Vaughan’s latest oddball offering echoes the work of Frank Henenlotter, particularly Brain Damage and Basket Case, as well as other miniature-monster titles such as It’s Alive, Critters, Sewage Baby, Ghoulies, and of course, Gremlins. Its central concept — a downtrodden everyman’s identity manifesting itself as a murderous force — also calls to mind Stephen King’s Monkey Shines.
The actually rather cute titular critter, whose behaviour resembles that of an unruly toddler throwing a tantrum, is brought to life using practical puppet effects, which imbue him with a real sense of character and personality, and, most importantly for a monster movie, a degree of sympathy. Central character Duncan’s barmy therapist (Peter Stormare) persuades him to try to accept and tame Milo, and the diabolical little tyke becomes something of a metaphor for mankind’s inner demons; the dark and primitive emotions that become harmful when not acknowledged and kept in check. Vaughan makes satirical jabs at modern family issues, New Age therapy and anger management as Duncan works through his various personal anxieties and fears of parenthood by bonding with Milo (in a rather absurd and strangely touching montage) and there are plenty of humorously subversive parallels with pregnancy.
Despite the obvious toilet humour, of which there is a lot, Bad Milo surprises with a slyly witty script and unexpected sentimentality. The violence is comical and splattery, the sound effects icky. The various murder scenes are conveyed through low-level POV camera work, heightening the absurdity. Tension is built around a succession of increasingly awkward and stressful moments Duncan encounters, and there’s an almost constant sense that he will snap at any moment and Milo will emerge. A particularly uncomfortable and cringeworthy scene involves Duncan, his wife, his mother, her considerably younger lover and a sex therapist having dinner and discussing Duncan’s possible erectile dysfunction. The various moments in which Duncan is confronted by his progressively unreasonable boss (a brilliantly smarmy Patrick Warburton) and being made responsible for overseeing redundancies while operating from a makeshift office in a bathroom, also help ratchet up the tension.
Bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘a pain in the ass’, Bad Milo is a fun little slice of schlock that genuinely surprises with the amount of heart it exhibits. While the central concept obviously lends itself to crass humour and gross-out gags, the film actually unfolds as a delightfully quirky comedy — with much B-movie monster mayhem thrown into the mix — about relationships and the pressures of modern society.