What happens if you don’t milk a cow for 24 hours? Obviously, they explode in a milkopalypse. Or is it a lactopalypse? Either way, it is dangerous and to be avoided. So do not fail to milk your cow! Or if you do, cut off its head before it explodes.
Such is the terrifyingish premise of Mikk Mägi and Oskar Lehemaa’s stop-motion sort-of masterpiece, The Old Man: The Movie. Released in 2019, the film became the most successful Estonian animated feature ever, and one of the most successful animated movies of any country featuring this many cow jokes per minute. Unearthed Films is releasing a new English dub on Blu-Ray/DVD.
The movie starts with a black and white flashback to the tragedy of Old Man Milker, the greatest milker of all time. Old Man Milker lost his cow one day, leading to the inevitable inflated udder explosion. He was horribly scarred and somehow turned into a milk person? In any case, he swore to kill any cow that ended up in the same situation. A dark and terrible oath!
The story proper starts with three siblings going to spend the summer in the country with their drunken and unpleasant Grandpa. Sister Aino is a bullying jerk. Younger brother Mart is a weird mad-scientist genius who keeps inventing robot cows. Older brother Pridik is a kind-hearted soul, who frees Grandpa’s cow because he can’t stand to see the way the old guy abuses it.
Unfortunately, when the cow escapes, it can’t get milked. The villagers are inconsolable without their milk (this is apparently the only cow in the county.) And Old Man Milker warns that the cow udder will explode.
Grandpa gets on his tractor with Pridik and Aino to find to locate the cow before it’s too late, while Old Man Milker recruits some out of work loggers to slice up the cow. Their madcap journey takes them into hippie encampments, through the bottom of an overly lascivious tree, and into the maw of a giant bear.
Much Gross Milk
Along the way, the characters are splattered, hosed, and generally inundated with a large range of gross fluids. Claymation is an ideal medium for gross-out humor, and Mägi and Lehemaa make the most of it.
Old Man Milker’s milk sweat is maybe the most viscerally disturbing effect. There’s something about the single drop of white sliding down his white face that really makes the stomach turn over. Other gags are significantly less subtle.
Blood fountains from an errant hippie punctured by a cow horn. The kids are spattered with pig poop from the apparently uncleanable barn. Scenes from the interior of a bear are filled with grotesquely pulsing internal organs. And as you’d expect, the climax involves really preposterous amounts of milk on just about everything.
The sophomoric energy is entertaining. It does get a bit predictable at an hour and a half though. Phil Tippett’s wonderful animated Mad God, released earlier this year, also revels in fluid and ick. But it’s got a much larger imaginative range, sinking through infinite layers of nightmare landscapes and crawling across terrifying alchemical gardens of weird.
Another Growth Experience
In comparison, The Old Man is stuck in less varied, more familiar muck. That’s true of its visuals. But it’s even more the case for its narrative. After stumbling around a little in search of a story, the film unaccountably settles on Pridik, the least interesting character, as the protagonist.
Pridik tries to teach Grandpa to embrace newer, less cruel cow-milking tactics. The moral transformation dead-ends in a kind of final knock-down super-battle involving giant robot cow vs. hybrid monstrosity cow. It’s parodic and fairly funny—but it’s still mostly following the story beats of every other action film. There is a big boss battle and the protagonists learn something about themselves. Yes, it’s a joke. But it’s still a not very adventurous way to structure a movie that should (like the cow) be galumphing off on its own path.
The conclusion all but acknowledges the limited ambitions. The other kids beg Mart not to make any more cowbots. They also protest when Grandpa does actually try a new and disturbing milking method. At the last minute, Mägi and Lehemaa have their characters repudiate their script’s oddest impulses and start talking about how it’s all too weird and too disturbing.
Endings are always tricky, and The Old Man does make a last-second move towards a fun cliffhanger (or milkhanger, I suppose?) Most viewers looking for a disgusting milk movie will probably be satisfied enough with the disgusting milk movie on offer.
But given the build-up, I was a little disappointed. The Old Man has moments where it seems ready to break out of the barn and flood the landscape with some truly unexpected substances. Then it retreats back to the old shed, and the familiar, (not entirely) wholesome bottle of milk.
Rating: 6.8/10 SPECS
The Old Man arrives on DVD & Blu Ray August 9th. For more on movies in theaters now, follow us here.
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Featured Image Credit: Unearthed Films.