Review: The Windmill (2016) ★½

The Windmill is a 2016 Dutch horror/drama film from director Nick Jongerius. The story centers on Jennifer, a young Australian drifter with a troubled past. We briefly glimpse Jennifer at her work as a nanny for a wealthy Dutch family, but once the father realizes that she has been lying about her identity, he confronts her and calls the police. Fearing arrest, Jennifer hits him over the head with a vase and runs away. She is forced out onto the streets of Amsterdam, where she attempts to escape police scrutiny by hopping on a tour bus headed for Holland’s picturesque countryside. While out on the tour, the bus breaks down, and the occupants are forced to confront a strange evil that inhabits a nearby windmill.

When The Windmill begins, we are introduced to a string of characters of different ethnicities and backgrounds, though it is made clear that Jennifer is the most important among them. There is a young Japanese man who laments the death of his beloved grandmother, a beautiful French photographer, hoping to snap a few pictures of the local windmills to bolster her portfolio, a workaholic businessman and his hemophiliac son, a soldier who suffers from PTSD, a doctor who is haunted by his past, and the seemingly average and pleasant tour guide, Abe. The premise feels overly staged, with each character suffering from his or her own personal demons that they must later confront. We are never given a plausible reason why they are all on the same tour bus, and the mediocre writing only further draws viewers out of the story. A back-story about the legend of a miller who made a pact with the devil is briefly outlined about halfway through, but by this point in the film, it is already painfully obvious where the story is going.

The central problem with The Windmill is not the acting or writing, which are both mediocre at best, nor the direction, which is often completely inept, nor is it the awkward and poorly executed gore that is randomly thrown in from time to time, but the complete lack of atmosphere. The premise, a tour bus full of people of dubious character heading for the Dutch countryside, sounds intriguing. One assumes that they will be shown beautiful polders, dotted with century-old windmills, before diving into a tense and horrific atmosphere, with characters being stalked as they scramble blindly through the desolate wilderness. Unfortunately, this never really happens. While there are a few nice shots of the Dutch countryside as Jennifer and the rest of the characters barrel towards their destination, it is never given more than a brief glance. After this, the majority of the sets appear to be constructed on a sound stage, rather than on location, and they often look cheap and unimpressive. In addition to the cheap sets, we are never given any sense that the characters are being stalked or face eminent danger, though they frequently talk about how someone is stalking them and they are in eminent danger. The sets don’t help set a tense mood, nor does the music, so we are just left with actors spouting clichéd dialogue with no real sense of dread or danger.

The gore is often jarring and poorly executed (The Windmill, 2016)

There are also some technical issues with the film, largely due to narrative inconsistencies and implausible scenarios; at one point, the editing seems to imply that a small crow flying into the side of the tour bus caused it to tip over into a nearby lake. And even though there is a somewhat surprising “twist” at the end, and I’m using the term twist loosely, there is also a character whose whereabouts and wellbeing are never explained. We are left to ponder whether the filmmakers purposefully omitted this information (which is unlikely), or if they simply ran out of money to shoot it.

The tagline on the poster for The Windmill reads “This isn’t Hell…this is Holland,” which I am sad to say is a line taken directly from the film. But this is misleading. I’m sure Holland is lovely, but The Windmill really is Hell.

Rating: ★½ out of 5 stars

The Windmill is currently available to stream on Netflix.

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