Helmed by Sean King O’Grady, The Mill is set in a dystopian universe, much like a lengthy Black Mirror episode but with less intrigue. Sean King’s The Mill makes sense in every way, starting from its angry commentary on worker exploitation and the overenthusiastic activity of certain workers, which always raises the bar, becoming a double-edged sword for average employees. The Mill is all about a hard-working employee, Joe, who wakes up inside a prison cell of “Mallard,” a multinational company where he has been working for several years. An emotionless AI-generated voice constantly demanding Joe push a giant grist mill is the ultimate conflict in Joe’s life. However, The Mill decides whether it is possible for the average Joe to find a way out of the prison or if he’ll have to stay in this constant loop until he breathes his last breath.
The Mill centers around Joe, a middle manager and a hard-working employee who is about to become a father after settling down in his new house with his family. However, life plays a tricky game with him, throwing him into a nightmare-inducing situation and forcing him to prove himself as the best employee working for “Mallard”, a conglomerate company. As Joe wakes up and opens his eyes, he finds himself trapped in an open-air prison surrounded by walls. This is when he realizes that he is trapped in a cell with no way out. The other employees are in the room next to him and are also imprisoned. He could not see them but could hear their voices through a vent. He has a conversation with one of them, who hesitates to say his name. All of these employees of this company are there to give the best of their efforts with sweat and blood, but it is hard to tell how much this hard work is worth.
Waking up in a jail cell wearing a black suit like a sophisticated employee working for a multinational company, Joe soon turns into a day laborer, assigned tasks by a faceless entity who is the head of the company. An AI-generated voice and a video projection pop up on the wall and assign tasks to Joe, instructing him how to complete them. He is ordered to push the centuries-old giant grist mill, which requires inhuman strength. He is tasked with maintaining his daily quota, which was to push it at least 50 times, but he is also forewarned that, upon reaching the time limit, if he remains the only one to barely meet the daily quota, while others exceed it, he will soon be terminated. Joe decides to complete his task without complaining, and every day he exceeds the daily quota. Desperate to get back to his family and spend time with his newborn, he has to push himself to break out of prison and survive. He thinks of two options: either work hard to survive in this jail or escape from here. His first option did keep him alive but forced the termination of other underperforming employees who couldn’t meet the bar Joe had raised. But while Joe ensured his safety by increasing his performance, it was never enough for “Mallard.” The exploitative people puppeteering those employees in Mallard soon expand the daily quota and force Joe to push himself further.
Finally, Joe comes out frustrated and exhausted by the day job and the screams of those underperforming employees who get terminated every night. He could no longer push the giant grist mill. When the daily quota is raised from 50 to 1000, Joe decides to call a strike among the employees, influencing them to stop pushing mills and not obey the rules. But his expectations were eventually hurt. While Joe believed the other employees would come out as rebels to protest the arbitrary rules of “Mallard”, the employees were not as brave as him. They start pushing the mill, no matter how hard it is. In the end, it was Joe who fell behind in the race and was far from reaching the daily quota. As a result, Mallard decided to terminate him. But does termination mean death or release? Or is it a loop from which it is impossible to escape? Probably, this is just like everyday corporate life, where this loop may never be broken. It is this loop that determines the start of a person’s day: waking up, going to work, and going back home. The same boring loop from which people desperately want to escape but are forced to return with the thought of a secure future and the fear of difficulties in rearing their children. By the end of the film, it remains to be seen whether Joe will stay in that loop or break out of it.
Playing the funny guy in almost every movie, comedian and actor Lil Rel Howery proves his versatility in The Mill. He was not quite vividly cultured in many of the films but became the core attraction of The Mill. Howery blends into his character in a way that makes the character shine. The film is an interesting watch and can be comparable to the episodes of Black Mirror, but the plot points are a bit messy and don’t really pay off. At times, it seems boring and repetitive, but perhaps it is on purpose, which tries to evoke our disgust towards these exploitative multinational companies treating their employees like mere slaves. The film doesn’t have any horrific or intriguing elements, but with a gloomy visual, it will give you a suffocating feeling, which will make you relate to Joe’s character. The storyline could have been more engaging, but the pacing failed to captivate the audience. Overall, Sean King’s symbolically enriched film The Mill is something that has more reasons to watch than to avoid. This is an important watch that will test your patience a bit, but you will ultimately not be disappointed.