I was honestly going to give Nick Jongerius’s The Windmill a good review. It’s a slasher film, but despite much critical bickering, that in itself is no sin. And while it gleefully indulges in wanton splatter—heads crush like melons under boots, sausage-like intestines plop out of sliced stomachs, hobbled victims crawl away from their own severed legs—it features a plot more compelling and original than about 90% of the horror films out there. A bus full of international tourists in Amsterdam gets stranded in the countryside next to a haunted windmill. The windmill is home to the spirit of a legendary miller who sold his soul to Satan and now must spend eternity killing sinners. Like Freddy Krueger in the dream world, The Miller can warp reality to prey on his victims’ fears, manifesting objects and people from their pasts to mislead and torment them. An alcoholic doctor sees a young woman on an operating table he accidentally killed while intoxicated. A Japanese tourist sees the wheelchair of the grandmother he abandoned to her death. And an Australian runaway sees glimpses of her abusive father.
The most fascinating thing about The Miller is that, like Krueger and Jigsaw (at least in his early movies…), he has rules. For one, he can’t hurt innocent people. For another, if his victims sincerely repent and feel remorse for their sins, he can’t hurt them either. So the tourists are forced to psychologically come to terms with their sins or die screaming. I’ve always found monsters you can reason with more threatening than unstoppable ones; I think of baddies like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers more as amoral natural disasters than psychopathic killers. When I was in elementary school in Texas, I was almost killed in a tornado. But since then I’ve hardly been scared of the wind.
But The Windmill completely ruins itself with a forced bad ending which, like the final shots of Gore Verbinski’s otherwise superlative The Ring (2002), completely spits in the face of the rules and lore they’ve meticulously spent the last 90 minutes constructing. Maybe Jongerius wanted to say something about the human condition, the impossibility of forgiveness, or even how evil can’t be truly defeated. But I see no deeper meaning in the ending of this movie. It’s an unexpected bad ending for its own sake. Doesn’t Jongerius understand that horror movies aren’t required to have bad endings? William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977), Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982), George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985)…these are all among the greatest horror films ever made. And they all have happy endings. The final shots of The Windmill feel like Jongerius surrendering his movie to how he thinks others would want it to end. That in and of itself keeps me from giving it a glowing endorsement.