‘The Mill’ Review: A Cog in the Machine

‘The Mill’ Review: A Cog in the Machine

If we as a nation are reaching an increasingly critical juncture over the fate of labor, “The Mill” is a film that appears startlingly well-suited for the moment. The dystopian thriller, directed by Sean King O’Grady, almost literally translates the idea of cog in a machine, following Joe (Lil Rel Howery), a middle manager within a major corporation called Mallard, as he mysteriously wakes up in an open-air prison and is forced to push a grist mill hundreds of times, 18 hours a day. He doesn’t know how he got there, only that, as a neighboring prisoner who talks to him through a vent explains, you better keep working or get “terminated.”

It’s an intentionally spare work — most of the film is confined to this one small outdoor space — but its stripped-down nature exposes the film’s often graceless execution. While it aims for sharp-edged commentary, the movie at times reads, ironically, like an A.I. generator took a handful of anticapitalist talking points — the ruthlessness of the corporate apparatus, the unwieldy danger of Big Tech’s algorithms, the power of labor organizing — and spit out a serviceable but unimaginative dystopian satire.

The film lacks any well-executed surprises to help it push past one-dimensional satire, and Howery is not strong enough of a dramatic actor to keep a single-setting, single-character film like this consistently engaging. As Mallard’s computer overlord increases Joe’s work demands and punishments, the film has the feel of an overextended, limp episode of “Black Mirror”: moderately entertaining, but lacking any teeth to its political bite.

The Mill
Not rated. Watch on Hulu.

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