As it turns out, we humans are really obsessed with our junk. Most horror movies have a readily made Freudian interpretation about the importance or muddling of gender roles. The classic reading of slasher movies goes like this: virginal young woman with androgynous name gets hunted by faceless avatar of masculine power wielding one or more phallic symbols until she arms herself with a bigger, stronger phallus and claims the masculinity within herself. It works because western audiences are pretty uncomfortable with the blurring of gender lines, and women get disproportionately masculinized because that’s the lens we use to understand power. Think of the many “strong heroines” out there — most are women taking masculine power for their own and dealing with problems in a traditionally masculine way. Rare is the man who does the precise opposite, which is what makes the 2013 horror/comedy Bad Milo! such a pretty little snowflake.
Duncan (Ken Marino of The State and Veronica Mars), whose onomatopoeic name cruelly taunts what he can’t do in the bathroom, has a problem. The poor guy has serious bowel issues caused by the metric shit ton of stress in his life. I’d say no pun intended, but the movie uses so many ass puns, I just wanted to fit in. Anyway, the company Duncan works at is downsizing, and his boss puts him in charge of layoffs in addition to his current responsibilities. His father is absent, and his mother is with a much younger man whose favorite dinner conversation topic involves just how much he is wrecking that in the sack. Duncan’s wife meanwhile wants to have children, and everyone from Duncan’s mom to a seedy fertility doctor wants to figure out what the hold up is.
That bowel issue turns out to be a monster living up Duncan’s ass. I thought about easing into this revelation, but what the fuck. This is a movie about a killer ass monster. Periodically, the monster climbs out of Duncan’s butt and straight up murders a cause of stress in his life. Duncan’s deranged psychiatrist believes that the monster is a personified id, and that killing it would turn Duncan into a zombie. The only solution then, is to make friends with it. The first step is a name: Milo.
Ridiculous, right? The weird part is that not only is the movie funny, it actually manages to be touching. It’s about a man making peace with the worst parts of his psyche, accepting it, and becoming a better man. Also, ass monsters. The cast deserves a big share of the credit here, and it’s just stuffed with ringers. Other than the always fantastic Marino, you have Community’s Gillian Jacobs as his wife Sarah, Peter Stormare of Fargo and probably your nightmares turning in a gleefully unhinged performance as Highsmith the shrink, vocal ace Toby Huss as Dr. Yeager the butt doctor, Kumail Nanjiani stealing every scene he’s in as Duncan’s “step dad,” Patrick Warburton adding a little sleaze to his go-to Puddy persona as Duncan’s boss, and the great Stephen Root as Duncan’s estranged father. Just as much praise should go to director and co-writer Jacob Vaughan and co-writer Benjamin Hayes, for finding real emotion amongst the butt stuff.
Bad Milo! is concerned with the question of masculinity from the very beginning. Duncan is consistently looked down upon as being less of a man because he’s meek and nice. His “stepfather” wants to be called “dad” and consistently, despite being the same age, invokes his privilege as the patriarch. He points out that Duncan grew up without a father figure, and is concerned about his perceived “girliness.” Duncan’s mother emasculates him by harping on Sarah’s non-pregnancy. At work it’s the same story, with the boss first saddling him with the stressful extra work of laying co-workers off and then laid off employees taking out their frustrations on him. They even transfer his office to (of course) a non-working bathroom. The film is playing in the common conception that a lack of traditional masculinity is tantamount to weakness, which then conflates “weakness” with femininity.
Small wonder then, that a man so relentlessly feminized should give birth. One of the earliest shots of the movie is Duncan and Sarah at an ultrasound, but as the camera pulls out, it’s revealed that the expectation that this is Sarah getting a look at her unborn child is incorrect. The patient is Duncan, and the doctor is trying to figure out what’s wrong with the poor man’s bowels. It was always clear that the film’s sympathies lie with Duncan — the events going on around him are portrayed as unjust and often cruel — yet in the moment Milo comes from his ass, it explicitly equates femininity with power. Duncan gives birth, which is pretty much the most girly thing you can do, and he is instantly powerful. Granted, it’s not a power he wants. He’s a nice guy, and would rather people aren’t torn apart and partially devoured, even if they are assholes. Yet those who wrong Duncan, who demean him, who step on him, who frustrate him, feel the wrath of his ersatz birth canal.
Meeting Milo’s aggressiveness with violence would be the masculine solution, and thus is the wrong one. No, to curb Milo’s rampages, Duncan has to befriend him. He has to accept the part of his personality he doesn’t like, and accept it back inside. The final part of this — spoiler alert — reverses the genders of the spouses as Sarah does her part to help stuff Milo back up Duncan’s ass. I mean, there’s some violence in there, much of it having to do with breaking down doors and sliding through pipes, because sometimes symbolism should be obvious. Milo isn’t truly placated until Duncan swaddles him up in some blankets and comforts him like a baby, truly embracing the ultimate feminine role of mother.
It’s a smart movie hiding inside a dumb one, asking big questions about what it means to be a man in the modern age. The answer it finds is a noble one, even if it involves murderous puppets coming out of your ass.