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Windmill Massacre, The
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by Jay Seaver

"It's not just giants that grind your bones to make their bread."
3 stars

SCREENED AT MONSTER FEST 2016: There are plenty of horror movies out there that try to do what the guys making "The Windmill Massacre" do, but in some ways that makes its relatively modest target harder to hit: While so many are trying to stand out from the pack by being consciously aware of the genre’s structure or trying to elevate themselves to something greater, Nick Jongerius and his collaborators just build something that wouldn’t be out of place in a gruesome EC comic book, and while that may preclude it from later being remembered as one of the era’s great, influential horror movies, it works well enough in the present tense.

Meet Julie - no, scratch that, meet Jennifer Harris (Charlotte Beaumont), who fled her native Australia for Europe a few months ago, although the family that hired her as a nanny has just found out about her fake ID. She flees, hopping on the “Happy Holland Tours” bus when it feels like the police are closing in. It looks like a pretty fly-by-night outfit, with a motley crew also departing from Amsterdam to tour the windmills: Jackson (Ben Batt), a soldier with PTSD; Ruby Rousseau (Fiona Hampton), a former model trying to reinvent herself as a photographer; Curt West (Adam Thomas Wright), a kid just taken out of school by his father Douglas (Patrick Baladi) and strangely unable to get his mother on the phone; Nicholas Cooper (Noah Taylor), a former surgeon; Takashi Kido (Tanroh Ishida), a Japanese tourist whose grandmother wanted her ashes spread in the Netherlands; and Abe (Bart Klever), the tour guide. One windmill not on the tour, where a madman ground murder victims rather than grain, is said to just be a legend, although when the bus breaks down and they can’t find cellular service…

Jongerius and his co-writers (Chris W. Mitchell & Suzy Quid) don’t exactly create the next great slasher villain in Miller Hendrik (Kenan Raven); he doesn’t have a great visual hook to define him or the sort of personality that could carry him into a second movie, and while sequel-readiness isn’t necessary in general for horror movies or practical for this one - his murder weapon is not exactly what you’d call portable, so a follow-up would have to be almost a remake with new tourists - it’s often a good way to measure how enthusiastic one is about the villain in the present tense. There’s enough to Hendrik that I suspect the filmmakers could flesh him out a little given the opportunity, but in this movie, he never really seems to come out of the background, even when the Jongerius gets past the point of cutting away just before the thing following someone attacks.

On the other hand, Henrik not being that big a deal does allow things to get interesting with the potential victims. Right from the start, it’s clear that Jennifer may not be the only one who has a secret, and that not only gives the audience a little permission to enjoy some of these guys getting knocked off, but it gives the inevitable suspicion and in-fighting among the passengers a little bit of teeth. The group often fractures in these movies, but it feels a little less like blind panic here; the hypocrisy is at least a bit interesting and telling, even if the guilty backstories that eventually come out are often fairly unimpressive. It does give the cast a chance to shine a bit doing more than screaming, though - Charlotte Beaumont does a fine job of holding the film together as Jennifer, who gets the most chance to visible struggle with her prior bad actions, with Noah Taylor bringing out the creepiness that never seems that far below the surface of Dr. Cooper’s ingratiating personality quite nicely.

Ultimately, though, what makes The Windmill Massacre work is that it doesn’t really mess around with its killing; the filmmakers use a lot of fake blood and have no interest in cutting away to possibly get a PG-13, and the kills are vicious enough to raise a bit of an eyebrow. Jongerius and editor Jeffrey De Vore are also quite good at cutting things so that the attacks have the appropriate feeling of overzealous punishment without lingering on the carnage too approvingly. They also work with the limbo situation better than most, making the audience feel cut off while still allowing for progress toward the windmill. And, when they arrive, the filmmakers manage to use the mill as the location of a couple quality action sequences with plenty of moving pieces, something that not everyone who otherwise builds a movie about people trying to escape in the woods manages.

"The Windmill Massacre" stumbles a bit toward the end - as much as introducing a moral dimension to the situation give a horror movie some heft, the story can fall apart when the villain threatens to trade in his motivation for One More Scare - and eventually blend into the blur of horror movies hitting festivals and VOD in a steady stream. Nevertheless, it’s a solid example of a vengeful supernatural force doling out excess punishment, capable horror comfort food.

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originally posted: 01/30/17 02:30:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Monster Fest For more in the 2016 Monster Fest series, click here.

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  26-Sep-2016 (18)


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