They say that one of the biggest signs to run when looking for a new job is when you hear the phrase,” We’re a family here.” Perhaps the employees of global conglomerate Mallard should have heeded that before signing on the dotted line. The Mill is the latest entry in many dystopian excavations of what work is and how the grind intrudes into all facets of our lives – from how much personal time we get to essentials like housing. Confined to a single location and locked into the perspective of one singular character, director Sean King O’Grady constructs things from the standpoint of someone being at the ebb and flow of company goals, but also the larger constructs that make it so.
To a degree, it works if you look at The Mill for the horror-inducing, claustrophobic narrative it strives to be. Where it falters is trying to gain the more significant thing in the story outside the compound. Joe (Lil Rel) suddenly wakes up in a cell without recollecting how he got there. He hears the voices of other Mallard employees given a ration of food and finds themselves in the same predicament. Joe has been a loyal worker for this company for several years and has risen to the ranks of mid-level management with a baby on the way. Despite that, a computer-generated program informed him it is dismayed by his department’s performance while still reiterating the company finds him valuable (typical corporate double-speak).
Now, he has a new job, which is drummed up as performance enhancement training, where Joe has to push a tough millstone for a certain amount of circulations according to a quota he is given. Of course, it’s not that simple. The company would prefer him and others not to stop at the required amount and go above and beyond. But in the pyramid setting, the person with the lowest amount gets terminated at the night’s end (you can imagine what that entails). Let’s say you don’t want to get voted off the island this way. Mainly, The Mill unravels much in how you expect it to. The structure Joe is put into is minimal and cold, which later in the film shows other obstacles to gaming the system.
At various points in The Mill, Joe talks to someone in the cell adjacent to his (voiced by Patrick Fischler). This person provides some exposition and serves as a point of sudden anger and encouragement. Lil Rel does as much as he can within this limited setting – muting his usual comedic stylings for a more desperate, dramatic role. The issue arises from the hook Joe’s character is latching onto. A series of flashbacks occur where his pregnant wife. Kate (Karen Obilom) questions why Joe works so late, what is happening with the company house they are provided, and the oncoming medical bills from having a newborn child.
The Mill tries to connect all of these issues to these various predicaments and can’t bridge the gaps. Inside a tighter film, there’s probably a more astute observation of capitalism and why it places specific stressors on people and families by design. The missed opportunity becomes more apparent when a twist in the third act reveals itself. We’re supposed to be as furious as Joe is and heed the call to action to recontextualize where we are as workers. It just wastes the urgency that it looks to build earlier in the film so much that the fire and fury wear off.