Monday, June 10, 2024

Milling Management

When you sit back and think about it, it's odd that the horror film genre has such little interest in everyday work. Sure, we'll get an occasional slasher-in-place-of-employment or the rarer team-building terrors, but the human stakes of capitalism are a bit less commonly explored. 

You could argue that virtually any genre film involves employment in some regard (most camp counselors aren't volunteering), but rarely is the very CONCEPT of work, particularly middle management, the basis of the actual horror.

Quick Plot: Joe (Get Out's Lil Rel Howery) is a well-dressed professional who awakens in a large open air concrete cell with no memory of how or why he got there. A helpful if grumpy voice on the other side of the wall provides a few tips, most of which boil down to "do whatever the loudspeaker tells you." 

She has a lot to say. Joe is quickly informed that due to his declining performance, Mallard, his employer (presumably an Amazon-ish stand-in), has taken advantage of some of that fine print paperwork no one reads to fast track him to a special form of corporate training. 

From 6AM to 10PM, Joe now works at the titular Mill. It's exactly what it sounds like: a heavy stone that must be pushed in a circle, his quota of rotations growing based on both good and bad performance reviews. Failure to comply results in termination, and no, there are no unemployment benefits.

Written by Jeffrey David Thomas and directed by Sean King O'Grady, The Mill reminds me of the first round of drinks at Friday night's office happy hour. It has a LOT to say, and some naughty fun doing so. Your reaction probably follows the rhythmic lean-in, nod, ask for clarification, gasp, and vow of solidarity that comes at many a coworker social interaction. You're unified in knowing that corporate culture is cruel, unfair, and often very unusual. But also, the 2-for-1 top shelf cocktail pricing ends soon, and you've already spent five days with these people.

All that is to say that The Mill is a good idea for a movie until you watch all 100 minutes of it and discover that's all it really was. I'll avoid spoilers here (though not in my Low Point) but will say that the last act twist was disappointing, and the final beat confounding. 

But there's a lot of good before that! The Orwellian doubletalk of Joe's employers is funny in a horrifying way, and the tension of literal wheel-spinning goes far. I'm sad to be so hard on the final product when so much of it is exactly the kind of movie I love. 

High Points
The early digs at corporate culture ("we're a family!") are both honest and clever in a maddening, all-too-familiar way

Low Points
SPOILER ALERT: putting aside the "this feels like a stretched out Black Mirror episode" sentiment across The Mill, it's Joe's final beat that simply makes no sense. After signing paperwork without reading the fine print (despite the nightmare he just experienced as a direct result), Joe defiantly stares at the camera to tell us he's tearing this place down. Um. How? 

Lessons Learned
Publicly traded companies have to document everything (including terminations)

Comfortable footwear is the real key to leveling up your career

There is nothing more arbitrary than a quota, especially when you are seemingly always able to do exactly what is needed to meet it

I really wanted to love The Mill but unfortunately, it's hard to recommend when the resolution is so flat. If, like me, you love a good Cube or The Platform-ish setup, you might still get a lot from the film's first hour. But then it goes on for another 46 minutes only to, well, I've said enough. Find it on Hulu and report back if you clock in. 

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