PLOT: A bus tour through the lowlands of Holland goes terribly wrong when the vehicle breaks down and the tourists find themselves being stalked by a supernatural slasher.
REVIEW: Director Nick Jongerius's THE WINDMILL (formerly known as THE WINDMILL MASSACRE) is a film that kept me guessing and adjusting expectations throughout its running time. It's presented as being a slasher movie, and it is to some degree. It has a slasher in it; a mute, horrifically scarred man who carries a scythe and commits gory murders. There is a cool back story given to this slasher - long ago, he was a miller in Holland who made a deal with the devil to keep his windmill's blades spinning whether the wind was blowing or not. He was also a serial killer, and the locals were not pleased when they found out he was the one responsible for the disappearances in the area. They stormed the windmill with torches and burnt it to the ground with the killer miller inside.
The story Jongerius came up with for the film, which was then fleshed out into a screenplay by Chris W. Mitchell and Suzy Quid, finds a small busload of tourists being taken around to see the windmills in the lowlands of Holland. When the bus breaks down, the tourists discover that they're near a windmill that isn't on the map. The killer miller's windmill, which has reappeared in the countryside on this night... and the scythe-wielding slasher has appeared along with it.
I went into THE WINDMILL fully prepared to just watch an old school slasher throwback. These people have ventured into the miller's territory and now they'll get knocked off one-by-one while trying desperately to escape. As the characters assembled for that ill-fated bus ride, I was being reminded of Adam Green's HATCHET. There the characters were a group being taken on a boat tour of the Louisiana swamps, the boat sinks, now they're in slasher Victor Crowley's territory, they get killed one-by-one. Where THE WINDMILL's set-up differs from HATCHET is the fact these people getting on the bus aren't just fun-loving sightseers. A young boy aside, each of them seems to be hiding some kind of dark secret. They're tormented by flashbacks and visions. Some take prescribed medicine to deal with their mental issues, others self-medicate with cocaine.
These characters have each done something terrible. They all have sins to atone for, and the supernatural forces at work around the windmill confront them with those sins. This isn't a simple stalk and slash, it's something mentally and spiritually deeper than that. I did not expect this aspect at all when I began watching THE WINDMILL, and as it strayed from my expectations I had to try to balance out ambivalent feelings. On one hand, I was disappointed that this wasn't just a run-of-the-mill slasher. I love slasher movies, and I just wanted to watch people fall by the miller's blades in bloody and inventive ways. On the other hand, I had to commend Jongerius for doing something different with the concept and going for a film with more depth than what I had in mind.
Disappointment won for the most part, because the way in which the story plays out when we start to realize what's going on was not especially engrossing to me. The film has a lot of moments where characters just sit around and talk about their predicament, and I was not invested enough in this bunch to care all that much about their conversations, so I felt that the movie started to drag between moments when the miller got to do his thing.
There are a few great instances of the slasher slashing, with severed body parts and intestines falling to the ground. There's even a drowning that I found thrilling largely because the shrieking strings in the score got very close to sounding like some classic FRIDAY THE 13TH music.
Given more to work with than the usual slasher fodder, the cast does well in their roles, with standouts including the always reliable Noah Taylor, Tanroh Ishida as the first person to figure out what's happening, and Charlotte Beaumont as our heroine Jennifer, who is not the typical innocent. She is just as troubled as the others on the bus.
In the end, I have to give THE WINDMILL a middle of the road rating. It's got a few good kills, nice cinematography, and it made an admirable attempt at standing out from the pack, but the storytelling wasn't very appealing to me and I found it to be a bit of a letdown even after setting aside expectations.