Here’s what I know about Dutch horror films – not much. Isn’t the guy who directed The Human Centipede (and its sequels) Dutch? Wait – does “Dutch” mean “from Holland”? Or is it Netherlander? Or Hollandaise? Yikes. I am not the global citizen I like to think I am. Suffice it to say, I’m a clueless idiot. So when The Windmill came across my (metaphorical) desk, I’d never heard of it. But, as The Wolfman pointed out, it did have Noah Taylor in it. And that guy’s rad! Besides, I’m a progressive person, so windmills and the electricity they produce from renewable / sustainable wind power should be right up my alley, right? Sure. Let’s get into it shall we?
Several characters pile into a tour bus to visit picturesque windmills dotting the rural lands around Amsterdam. There’s the tortured but kind-hearted young Australian woman on the run from the law for mysterious reasons who’s running low on her anti-psychotic meds. There’s the asshole business man yelling into his phone about mergers (or something) who took his hemophiliac (that’s important) son out of school to drag him along on this just-us-guys day out. There’s the Japanese tourist who turns out to be something of a mystic. There’s the former commercial actress who was “big in Japan”. There’s the PTSD suffering soldier on the run from the law for mysterious reasons. There’s the doctor who had a freak out in an art museum (Noah Taylor!). And (finally) there’s the salt-of-the-earth tour guide / bus driver who seems kindly enough but isn’t very helpful in a pinch. All of these folks are pretty peeved when the bus breaks down on some remote back road surrounded by canals (or maybe swamps?). Luckily, there’s an old windmill nearby that they can shelter in. Unluckily, that windmill is the windmill local folklore says was the site of satanic rituals and a miller who ground the bones of locals into flour. (THAT’S what windmills are for? damn. i really thought it was electricity. guess i should have realized they pre-date electricity. duh) They have no cell service, no nearby villages, and no hope of surviving the Freddy Krueger faced demonic miller with a scythe that’s stalking them to punish them for their sins.
The Windmill isn’t bad. Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. But it does have it’s flaws. Let me start with the last phrase of my synopsis. (see above) That “punish them for their sins” trope clashes with the folklore of the windmill and the miller. He made a deal with the devil to increase his flour yield in exchange for grinding up the (presumably) innocent townsfolk. When they found out, they burned him to death in his own evil windmill. Now he and his windmill are back from hell to punish sinners? It may seem nitpicky, but it’s important. I really like folklore based horror. But it has to make sense to immerse the viewer in the story. Folklore is story. You can’t have a story-based premise that doesn’t make sense. It’s distracting at the very least. There’s another character who plays a part in the punishment of sins. At first this person (I don’t want to spoil it) seems to be the miller’s Renfield. But the epilogue dispels that notion and reveals him to be supernatural, thereby further muddying the folklore. How does he fit into the story of the satanic miller? Who knows. The sins of these characters are interesting for the most part, but the ensemble approach waters down audience sympathies a bit. It’s hard to care about so many individuals in peril. The film does focus a bit more on Jennifer (Australian who ran out of anti-psychotics). And she’s certainly a sympathetic character even though her backstory ends up being pretty unbelievable. (it involves a tiny window in a trailer) So, we at least have that to anchor us. With all of this criticism, you’re probably wondering why I began this section with “The Windmill isn’t bad.” Well, even though the motivations and backstory / folklore are a little wonky, they’re at least interesting. The creature effects are pretty good. The miller’s scarred face and hollow black eyes are terrifying. And the gore is surprisingly copious and well-done, making some of the kills shockingly creative.
The Final Cut: The Windmill is a passable supernatural slasher with some great gory set pieces and a potentially iconic killer. Its premise is a bit muddled and its characters aren’t all sympathetic, but those aren’t dealbreakers.