Dutch horror films don’t get any more on-brand than The Windmill. Maybe a horror movie about the little Dutch boy who plugged that dam and saved Holland? Nah. Big, wooden windmills acting as a gateway to Hell screams Dutch horror, much like the Australian main character, the Asian sidekick….alright, there’s a bit more diversity past locale stereotyping. In any case, director Nick Jongerius spills buckets of gore all over the Netherlands, as a demon dispatches sinners with his all-healing scythe. Heads roll in the name of soulful enlightenment, because karma is quite the bitch in this European slasher import. Grab your clogs and throw on a poncho, because Holland’s hottest sightseeing tour is about to get messy. Like messy/gory, but also messy scripting, and messy crafting.
The film’s protagonist ends up being Jennifer (Charlotte Beaumont), a homeless Aussie transplant who just got outted as being an illegal. With nowhere to go, she hops on tour bus for “Happy Holland Tours,” along with a few other joyriders. The voyage’s guide, Abe (Bart Klever), plans to take everyone on a cheery excursion into windmill territory filled with national facts and prime views. Sounds like a relaxing vacation, right? It is, until Jennifer goes ballistic after she hallucinates the appearance of her (dead) father, causing the bus to stop short. Abe tries to rev up again, but engine troubles strand everyone for the night. That’s when a masked stalker appears in the woods, and the group finds themselves face-to-face with their sins. Will they repent, or be harvested by their new reaper friend?
Like all good foreign horror movies, The Windmill attempts to build mythology. Slasher kills have a vested meaning, stemming from the idea that Jennifer’s tour group find themselves at Hell’s doorstep. Their demonic follower – a scythe-carrying man with burned, Krueger-esque skin – acts as a collector of the damned, and he must tend to his newest bastardized flock. Jennifer’s past wrongs are made obvious during flashbacks (she set her father ablaze for abusing her, but also her brother by proxy), while other characters unveil their mistakes over time.
Photographer Ruby (Fiona Hampton) reveals that she hired Yakuza freelancers to help eliminate a Japanese model rival (when she was “big in Japan” doing toothpaste ads), Dr. Nicholas (Noah Taylor) accidentally killed a patient while intoxicated, father Douglas (Patrick Baladi) choked his wife to death over visitation rights to his son Curt (Adam Thomas Wright), etc. Basically, Jennifer boards a bus full of the worst people you can find. These aren’t just sinners, these are despicable criminals who somehow got exonerated (like, multiple counts of murder), which spins a darkness that feels a little too vile.
Points get awarded for establishing a religious story of Earthly release, but there’s one issue – characters know how to survive, but seemingly IGNORE what I’d consider pretty important information. A local student, Takashi (Tanroh Ishida), comes face to face with the devil’s scythe, but escapes because he shows remorse. He follows a cute little dog into an empty clearing, only to discover his grandmother’s wheelchair (characters are so close to Hell, they find clues to their past actions before dying – I know). Takashi falls to his knees, accepting death due to his immense regret. In doing so, he’s granted a pass, and he tells everyone they can do the same. Show remorse, and you live. Easy, movie over! Or just have this PRETTY ‘EFFING BIG REVEAL be ignored, and let characters continue to justify their actions while being dismembered, beheaded and drown.
Jongerius displays a tremendous ability to spill blood in viciously ingenious ways, but is that enough to distract from scripted generics and uneven storytelling? The first kill – of military man Jackson (Ben Batt) – stands out because it bucks convention with blood-red enthusiasm (squashing Jackson’s head like a rotten pumpkin). Killing off the most qualified combatant asserts this ballsy proclamation of “Convention be damned!” – which is never followed up. From here, characters continue to separate even though they know what awaits, while random, unexplained events divert the film’s trajectory for no reason. At one point, Jongerius cuts over to a soothsaying Takashi who’s summoning their monster’s face in smoke, followed by whispered spells to hopefully save them. You know, because every Asian character is a hidden mystic! Kills are furious and fast – tearing into victims with 80s practical appeal – yet storytelling aspects leave much more to be desired thanks to randomness and character stupidity.
It’s hard to rate The Windmill because I want to love the whole sinner/saint duality, plus Nick Jongerius’ gore busts heads unlike most indie horror flicks these days. Jongerius knows slasher kills, but setups are just jaggedly hacksawed and cobbled together without much intelligent fashioning. Characters are victims, hurdling towards finality while stuck on a coach bus that deceptively projects a modicum of comfort. Then they reach a deadly windmill, and some crazy Dutch bastards bring upon a wind-churning Hell that only Holland could be responsible for. I wanted more, but those entertained by split-opened craniums and extreme murder sequences might find enough for a midnight watch here. Deaths are certainly up to snuff, it’s just a shame that the scripting doesn’t match such lively visual depravity.
The Windmill is all about kills, but can't generate enough energy to power this derivative, sometimes nonsensical plot.