Nick Jongerius is a film director, producer, editor, and writer from Bovenkarspel, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands. He may be best known to horror movie fans as the producer of Frankenstein’s Army (2013) and Dood eind (AKA Dead End, 2006), but that is likely to change as his directorial debut The Windmill (AKA The Windmill Massacre) continues to get noticed internationally. When I reviewed the film for Gruesome Magazine in October, I said that it “blends elements of slasher, classic Amicus Productions and Hammer Film Productions, supernatural, and old dark house films to create a brutal but fun chiller that dishes up plenty of gore and grue,” and that Jongerius “makes a solid feature film debut at the helm.”
I recently had the opportunity to interview Nick Jongerius about The Windmill. He offered a great deal of insight into how the film went from concept to finished product, and his experience as a first-time feature film director.
Gruesome Magazine: In the opening credits, you are given an “Original idea by” credit, with the screenplay-writing credit given to Chris W. Mitchell (who co-wrote Frankenstein’s Army, which you produced) and Suzy Quid. What was the process from your original idea to the finished screenplay?
Nick Jongerius: It started when I came up with the idea of using Dutch iconic symbols like clogs, dikes, and windmills, and drenching them in blood. To see if this concept had proof of life, I created a teaser trailer (in 2013). There was absolutely no focus on story or script yet; it was just an exercise to see if we could make a windmill and its miller menacing and mysterious. Once we posted this teaser trailer, the response was overwhelming. It was a real surprise to me when distributors and sales agents were asking me where the rest of the film was and if they could buy it.
All of a sudden there was a need for a script and that’s when I started working with the writers. First, I developed the script with Suzy. It was a real collaboration where I gave her ideas and we went back and forth from concept to script. Almost all of the characters were developed in this phase, as was the setting of the bus coach and the guided tour.
At a certain point, I felt the story of The Miller and the contraptions of the kills needed to be more coherent. Freddy Krueger, for example, only comes when you sleep. I asked Chris Mitchell to rewrite the script and he came up with the idea that the people on the bus all have something in common: a sin. We polished the script based on old disaster movies and the Amicus horror films where strangers with different backgrounds get stranded and the shit hits the fan. Chris and I also created the backstory of The Miller, and we gave the tour guide a different role in the film.
GM: You have taken some of the basics of classic slasher cinema and successfully combined them with supernatural elements. I also sense some classic British horror elements, such as might be found in Amicus films, as you mentioned, and Hammer films. Besides Amicus, what were your other influences on The Windmill? â€¨â€¨
NJ: Chris is a Brit living in Holland. Reading the script and seeing the film, I think you can sense his tongue-in-cheek humor. I really loved it and the actors and I embraced it to the fullest. It was quite tricky because we didn’t want it to become camp. There is a nuanced balance between horror, drama, and comic relief. I hope people appreciate it.
We knew that there were some clichÃ©s we had to embrace like people getting stranded in an ominous place, the absence of cell phone reception, and the fact that nobody believes the truth. We exaggerated those elements by using the Amicus and also disaster movie frameworks to give the story a throwback look and feel. But we also took those clichÃ©s and used them to our advantage. The only person in the group who no one understands, Japanese-speaking Takashi (Tanroh Ishida), explains the backstory. And then there’s the girl, Jennifer (Charlotte Beaumont), who no one believes until [the rest of the stranded group] finally bear witness to The Miller themselves, and it is they who are revealed to be crazy.
GM: The female characters in The Windmill are stronger than their typical counterparts in most slasher films. For example, no one takes off their clothes, and each of the women took strong, if not exactly wise, steps to change their lives in the past. Was it your plan for Jennifer and Ruby to break away from the “scream queen” tropes from the beginning or is it an idea that was developed after Chris and Suzy began work on the script?
NJ: It was my idea from the beginning. I was raised watching strong women in films, like Ripley in Alien. I also truly believe that women are much stronger than men when it really comes down to it. I really like the fact that the men in this film are either idiots or evil, and that nothing they do helps, and in fact only makes their situation worse.
GM: Another interesting technique The Windmill uses is that viewers are given the major reveal about the fate that befalls them well before the third act. How did you decide to take that approach?
NJ: Viewers are smart and everything has already been done before, so we knew that people would figure out the plot anyway. We decided to use that to our advantage. The sins are connected to the way they die. These characters are running from their past, so they are very closed-off. When they open up – the father who confesses that he has killed his wife, or the doctor who accepts that Jennifer might be right – they are at their most vulnerable. This is the moment that death, personified by The Miller, whispers to them and lures them toward their sin. They have a last chance to show remorse. If they don’t take it, they will be executed in the same way they committed their sins, more or less.
GM: The Miller seems to be indiscriminate about who he kills; he doesn’t differentiate between the various types of sins and sinners. Some viewers might see one or more of the characters as being more “justified” in committing their sins, though. What is your take on The Miller’s inability or perhaps refusal to weigh the severity of the sins differently?â€¨â€¨
NJ: Haha. Good question! In the end it is about accepting the fact you did something wrong. Sure, perhaps Jennifer didn’t deserve to die, considering the that fact she probably had a good reason for her sin. On the other hand, she showed no remorse and when she had the chance, she [showed that] would kill her father again and again. It is a Catch-22. As a character, she developed and learned to face her problems instead of running from them. On the other hand, she could have dealt with her problems with her father differently. But she didn’t and it got her little brother killed in the process.
GM: Speaking of The Miller, how did you come up with the character’s striking design? â€¨â€¨
NJ: Creating the backstory helped a lot with this. The clogs with spikes were something I used in the teaser as well. I really wanted him to be menacing but not a hulk of a man.
Our SXF team, Rob’s Prop Shop, showed me some horrific photos of burn victims and we combined that with my idea to make him a little devilish. We did a lot of design in sound effects, as well. The sound of chains, for example, and the fact that each step he takes sounds like a pole hitting the soil.
GM: The Windmill has a very talented, experienced international cast, including Noah Taylor, who has won numerous awards for his performances in films including Shine, The Year My Voice Broke, and the horror film Red White & Blue. The cast has an ensemble feel to it, as well. How was this cast assembled and what was it like working with them?â€¨â€¨
NJ: We were very fortunate to work with Daniel Hubbard. He was the casting director for Paul Greengrass on Jason Bourne and Green Zone. Working with him opened up a very broad range of amazing actors.
I saw myself as a football coach who had to assemble a team. I knew that working with an ensemble cast meant that I would have to divide my time. I needed actors who could work independently. All of them ended up bringing so much to the table. It was a real collaborative process. We tried different things on set and with each of the actors, we tried to dive in as much as we could into his or her [characters’] backstory.
Noah Taylor came in about a week before we started shooting. I was getting really nervous if we were going to be able to cast his role and when Noah was interested, I flew straight to London to meet him. I was excited because he has such a track record and this was going to be my feature debut, but he was so gracious and supported both the film and myself a hundred percent. It was a delight working with him, and with all the cast, actually.
GM: You had experience as a television and short-film director before making The Windmill. What were some of the different challenges you faced transitioning from the small screen and short films to this, your first feature-length film?
NJ: Making this film was also a journey inward to find out what kind of director I wanted to be. I used to work in TV, and only on short films can I do what I want. For a feature, I wanted to make a film that offers my point of view on the subject and the genre. The only way it can stand apart is because it comes from you. This film has a lot of myself in it. I love Japan and have a fascination with the culture and their rituals. [The character of ]Curt is kind of based on myself. I have a disease as well and, as a child, I struggled with my parents about taking medicine and being able to manage it.
I think windmills have followed me my whole life. I was born on a street called The Saw Windmill street, which was near an old creepy windmill. Where I live now, there are a lot of windmills, too. They kind of creep me out, because they stand by themselves in a field and have no windows. If a swinging blade hits you, you will likely die. I liked the idea of this thing that creeps me out to be the arena for my feature debut.
I think these are the main differences between directing TV and a feature film. I have a lot to [be thankful for] from working as a TV director, because without that experience, I would have never been able to pull off this film in the amount of shooting days I had. The time pressure, working with actors, and managing a crew on a shoot that lasts longer than just a few days is something you can only prepare yourself for by directing TV drama.
The Windmill is finishing up an international film festival run and is now available on VOD in the United States.