Joe (Lil Rel Howery) sits on the edge of the millstone in The Mill.

This Dystopian Horror Film Predicted One of 2022’s Most Alarming Developments

Sean King O’Grady’s inspiration for directing a film about a claustrophobic dystopia was simple: “We’re living in one.”

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That film is The Mill, now streaming on Hulu as part of Huluween 2023. In The Mill, a businessman named Joe (Lil Rel Howery) wakes up in a mysterious open-air prison next to a giant millstone, which he’s forced to turn day after day to survive.

When O’Grady found the screenplay written by Jeffrey David Thomas, he knew it was the film he wanted to take on. “I read the script and I couldn’t sleep that night,” he says. “[My producing partner] Josh Feldman and I made a blood pact that before the end of the year, we would make that movie.”

O’Grady knew the film would resonate with audiences, but he didn’t know it would end up being quite so prescient.

“We started prep in November 2022,” he says. “We sort of went into a black hole as we were shooting the movie, and when we came out, this new technology called Chat GPT had been released, and the world had changed pretty dramatically … The film is about AI and labor issues, but then they started happening in the real world on a more accelerated timescale than we had anticipated.

“If you look at the two dominant conversations in American discourse, it’s AI and it’s labor,” O’Grady says. “That’s not necessarily a new conversation. It’s always the new technology and labor, how they converge, how they’re at odds with each other, how they help one another, and I think that this is just a very contemporary version of that. It’s totally wild to see these things happening in the real world that happen in the movie.”

Then there’s the symbolism of the mill itself: a giant, back-breaking contraption that doesn’t seem to serve any purpose besides punishing Joe. “To be in that position, where you’re pushing this millstone and you feel like your humanity has been removed from you … there are people who feel like they’re trapped in their circumstance,” O’Grady says. “They feel like they’re not doing anything that benefits society. They’re giving more to their employer than they’re getting. It’s a dead end that takes you away from your family, takes you away from your passion, and that steals your time.”

Check out our full interview with Sean King O’Grady below, or the other interviews on our Youtube channel!

(featured image: Hulu)

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Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href=""></a>