The Windmill Massacre (2016)

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“This isn’t hell, this is Holland,” says the ever-sceptical Douglas (Patrick Baladi), an English businessman who has suddenly taken his son Curt (Adam Thomas Wright) out of school for a tour of the Netherlands, and who is always being distracted by his mobile phone. Douglas sure did not believe young Australian tourist Jennifer (Charlotte Beaumont) when she suggested that PTSD-afflicted Royal Mariner Jackson (Ben Batt) was just murdered by a monstrous figure bearing a scythe and clogs – and now that Douglas has seen with his own eyes the butchery taking place, he still cannot accept that there might be something diabolical going on.

With local bus driver Abe (Bart Klever) as their guide, Jennifer, Douglas, Curt, Jackson, Dr Nicholas Cooper (Noah Taylor), model-turned-photographer Ruby (Fiona Hampton) and Japanese mourner Takashi (Tanroh Ishida) are all taking the ‘Happy Holland Tours’ on its scenic visit to various historic windmills – but the one near where Abe’s bus breaks down is not on any map. Now these foreigners, each harbouring a guilty secret, are set on a collision course with a local mediæval myth, and must atone for their own pasts before it is too late.

The Windmill Massacre is the directorial feature debut of Nick Jongerius, and co-written by Chris Mitchell, both of whom were part of the creative team behind Richard Raaphorst’s retro-Nazified found-footage freakshow Frankenstein’s Army (2013). The Windmill Massacre is a lot less insane than that pedigree might suggest – and indeed about as subdued as a supernatural slasher can be, placing a lot of emphasis on character to shore up its themes of sin, punishment and redemption. Jennifer is the film’s principal focus, pursued as much by the trauma and guilt of her tragic family history as by the corpse-grinding Miller (Kenan Raven), and perhaps unable to escape either, but still determined to make amends for crimes both intended and unintended. Her predicament, though expressed in genre terms, is a relatably moral one – and the same is true for the other, sketchier characters along for the ride, in a film where suffering is as much psychological and self-inflicted as imposed by an infernal gatekeeper.

Despite its title, and Douglas’ line about Holland not being hell, and a brief history (from Abe) of the country’s canal system, the film makes very little of its setting in the Netherlands. With all the key characters being tourists, English is the lingua franca here (no doubt in part a bread-making, commercial decision), and more Japanese is heard than actual Dutch. This does allow Takashi to say jigoku, referencing Nobuo Nakagawa’s similarly themed film of the same name from 1960; but it also means that the one USP of The Windmill Massacre – its location – ends up being a mere background detail. What remains is slickly made and gorily hellish – if also a bit of a generic grind. Still, there is some fun to be had in these dark satanic mills – and who doesn’t like a bit of sauce hollandaise?

© Anton Bitel