Lil Rel Howery may be starring, but The Mill is anything but comedic with its biting take down of corporations and unhealthy work life.
PLOT: A businessman mysteriously wakes up in an open-air prison cell with only an old grist mill. Forced to work as a beast of burden, he must find a way to escape before the birth of his child.
REVIEW: It’s easy to set your expectations for a certain level of comedy when you see a film starring Lil Rel Howery. But that would be a mistake when it comes to The Mill as this is anything but a comedy. It’s clear Howery really wanted to make a legitimate horror film with a modern bend to it. Waking up in a mysterious mill, Joe Stevens (Lil Rel) is forced to push an old grist mill or face the consequences. The tactics of motivation are manipulative and can be pretty brutal. As someone with a bad back, I was constantly re-adjusting in my seat at the sheer stress put onto Joe’s back; sometimes figuratively but oftentimes literally.
I absolutely loved the messaging of The Mill with it really going after corporations. Unhealthy work and life balance seems to often be praised and this really highlights the absurdity of it all. The things that are missed that really matter, are all done in the service of corporate overlords. There’s an element that feels almost pulled from Squid Games, with its setting feeling like it could have been a game in the series. The larger-than-life Corporation in control of it all, Mallard, could be a stand-in for so many real-life organizations. And the near future setting helps to keep ambiguity in the proceedings. Even still, they never go too far with it, and it manages to feel grounded.
With this, it makes Joe really easy to root for. Lil Rel absolutely anchors the film, being the primary person on screen for 90% of it. He’s still playing a character you would expect from him but far less jokey. I was really impressed with what he brought to the table. I love how many actors have really been embracing the horror genre lately and Howery seems to be amongst them, even serving as a producer here. Pat Healy had one of the best guest roles in the final season of Better Call Saul, and he continues to be a highlight even with brief screen time. His role is complex and will always keep you guessing. He’s the only person for Howery to play off of, so this duality helps the overall picture.
I also feel like I need to make sure to point out that there’s no excessive violence here. The trailers might have you believe that there’s a Saw-like element at play here but it really doesn’t go that far. Some of the visual language certainly falls under the Saw umbrella but otherwise, there’s nothing that goes too far. If anything, this is a different kind of torture and it works very well.
I feel a lot of people are going to be able to relate to a lot of the struggles going on here. Everyone has had a boss who treats them like a number and not a person. With Workers’ Rights being such a talking point over the last few years, The Mill feels like it’s coming at the right time. I’m sure the third-act revelation will turn some folks off, but I felt it landed the messaging even harder. And it’s got one of the most satisfying cut-to-credits out there. The Mill may be the biggest surprise of October (which has heavy competition with Totally Killer). Unless they’re given a theatrical release, Hulu Horror films often miss the mark, so I went into this with very low expectations. Thankfully this provided a smart and poignant thriller that really takes aim at a lot of issues going on in society today.
THE MILL IS STREAMING ON HULU EVERYWHERE ON OCTOBER 9TH, 2023.