Dismiss the horror genre at your peril — as there’s no genre more effective at delivering a powerful social message. That’s because by presenting itself as just a thrill, it manages to creep under the viewer’s defenses, offering powerful messages of systemic inequality, injustice, and opportunity for empathy. It’s a tradition that began with the origin of the genre; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a tale of reproductive woe, and Dracula a story of a queer love disallowed by social norms. The Mill, the latest from Sean King O’Grady (We Have To Do Something), carries on this tradition with a timely and terrifying tale of a man who finds himself quite literally grinding his life away for his corporate overlords.
It was a film Grady felt compelled to make the minute he read the script. “It was like one of those rare experiences where I knew immediately I had to make this. I don’t know if you’re a golfer by any chance but when you hit a golf ball just perfectly, there’s a feeling like, ‘That’s the thing.’ This script had that feeling ... like, there’s no, ‘can I make this is?’ It’s ‘I have to make this’,” he tells PRIDE. The reason Grady was so drawn to the project was indeed the social messaging. The film touches on how our current corporatocracy makes us into beasts of burden, how it makes us see our allies as competitors, and drives us to push ourselves harder and harder until there is no humanity in our lives — oh, and how AI is and will play a role in it all.
Like I said, very timely.
PRIDE sat down with Grady to talk about his powerful new film — which is streaming now as part of Hulu's Huluween program — what’s next for the director, and why he hopes audiences see The Mill as a call to revolution.
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PRIDE: I think that this movie is the true definition of modern horror — I was completely triggered by it and I mean that as a compliment. One of the themes deals with AI, which is incredibly prescient. What do you hope people take away from The Mill on that subject?
SEAN KING O’GRADY: We started our hard prep ... in November of 2022, which is when Chat GPT was released to the public. We entered our little bubble to make this movie and AI was very much a science fiction element. And then we left our bubble in January, AI was something that everybody was talking about. I know art reflects life and life reflects art, that whole thing. But it was just like art and life converging in this very strange way. That continued to happen as obviously labor kind of came to the forefront in May of 2023. So it was like the movie and reality were catching up to one another so quickly, we really couldn’t even process it.
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It’s so incredibly timely — but also aspects of it are kind of timeless. For instance, some of the most horrifying aspects of the film happen off-screen. I am talking about audio of what is happening to other people in the same situation as Joe. It feels like a commentary on the inhumanity of mega-corporations. Is that what you’re getting at here?
For us, this represents really, it’s any system. I think we see this a lot. I think we live in a corporatocracy, right? We see this unfold in our country in this specific way, at this specific time. But I really think Joe’s journey to me is universal. It’s the journey of a person who realizes that they’re in a system that they thought they were going to give something to, and they were going to get back from. That’s not the way this works. Look, I’m not gonna get on a pedestal about this but if you look for concentration of wealth in this country there’s more people giving to these systems than getting anything back from them. I think that this has been a problem, obviously, throughout human history. But this is the way that it’s unfolding right now. And I think that’s the journey that Joe is on. And I think that’s what you know, hopefully, people will relate to it. I hope people have fun and enjoy the movie, because obviously, it’s a thriller, and we want you to enjoy it. But, like you said you like horror that’s about things, and I think that’s where the genre works as a Trojan Horse. Yeah, you come for the thrills, but hopefully, you walk away with something, and it makes you examine those systems in your own life, and whether you’re giving more than you’re getting back.
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I love how The Mill gets at this: that the enemy isn’t one another, the enemy is the larger overarching system of power. But it also uses dark humor to elevate things. I’m talking about how there are constant commercials and corporate speak playing while Joe is grinding away. Was that an important element to include for you?
There’s an element of absurdism to this movie. You’ve got this guy who is having his freedom stripped from him was in this horrific situation where he’s got this life or death battle that he’s facing every day, but he’s getting his orders barked at him by a cartoon duck. I think whenever you’re dealing with existential themes you also can make that a little easier by leaning on absurdism pretty heavily.
It's very cool how the film shows how so many of the most sinister forces in life are hidden behind these adorable, harmless-looking mascots. So, I am a fan of another one of your films, We Need To Do Something. I’m curious. John Carpenter has his Apocalypse Trilogy. Are you working on your Trapped in Isolation trilogy?
Funny you say that! Yes! I actually am, yeah. I’ve got a movie called Godmode, in which the creator of this fantasy video game series finds himself sort of trapped in a physical manifestation of his own world that was created by a superfan.
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Oh, my god, that’s amazing. Do you have a throughline that you’re speaking to with these films?
Yeah, not to go too deep into my own psychology, but I have nightmares that I’m trapped in places. I frequently am trapped in a room and the room’s always different. Sometimes it turns out to be hell. Sometimes it turns out to be a prison. But I think for me in life, we all get put in boxes. I think we all get trapped in prisons of our own creation or systems that want to control us. I personally feel a need to break out of those boxes. And I hope to inspire people to break out of those boxes and those prisons and that, to me, is what I’m trying to do with these films.
'The Mill' is streaming now on Hulu. Watch the trailer below.
The Mill | Official Trailer | Hulu