Directed by Shannon Houchins [Other horror films: N/A]
So I will admit that I found Howard’s Mill a rather solid film for the type of movie it is.
Done in the vein of Hell House LLC, We Are the Missing, and The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Howard’s Mill plays itself up as a real documentary about multiple individuals who go missing over the course of a hundred years, starting off with just a single case, and turning quickly into a sprawling and rather mesmerizing film.
It has the same problems you might expect from films like The Poughkeepsie Tapes – occasionally some of the interviews don’t feel quite authentic, and we’re not really presented with a clear, concise answer come the finale (which is a similarity shared with We Are the Missing), but even with some small flaws, personally, I found myself really pulled into the mystery.
And it certainly goes all over the place. It’s pieced together realistically enough, slowly introducing new pieces, previously unknown history, different angles, all that jazz. Once some skeletal remains start showing up toward the latter half of the film, we even get an interview with a physicist talking about the possibility of time travel, and perhaps a hint of extraterrestrial activity even later on. And the best part of it is, all of it works, and I bought every moment.
Part of the reason is that this isn’t explicitly supernatural, like We Are the Missing is. Sure, there’s some quotes about the lands that Howard Mill’s placed on as ‘taking people’, and there are certainly odd circumstances of lost time and memories for a few individuals, but more than anything, this is just a mystery that isn’t fully solved, and I really enjoyed how cemented in reality it was, especially the somewhat moving conclusion, as Dwight Nixon (played by Reegus Flenory) contemplates the fate of his missing wife, the disappearance of which he was initially blamed for, and what set up this whole documentary (in-universe, of course).
There’s not a full cast listing on IMDb, and the credits of the film just list the characters in the movie as if this were a real documentary, which makes sense, of course, but means I don’t have access to everyone in the cast.
Of those I can identify properly, I wanted to give a lot of props to the aforementioned Reegus Flenory, as he struck me as pretty believable. Josefina M Boneo isn’t always the best documentary host, but she had some strong moments. Others I can name include Jeremy Childs (The Dead Center), who shines toward the finale, Jessejames Locorriere, Ashley Shelton, Steve Wedan, and Danny Vinson.
Naturally, there are some smaller performances I wanted to point out – one is a character who appears briefly named Allison Steinquest, who reminds me oddly of Judy Greer. Another is a principal of the local high school, a character with a few great scenes named David Buchanan. A farmer near the questionable land named Ken Allen popped up throughout, and I dug his low-key style. Lastly, and I thought these two were perfect for the movie, we have an older couple named the Moody’s, who give us a little more insight into the strange goings-on.
Now, unlike Hell House LLC or The Poughkeepsie Tapes, there’s nothing overly shocking or scary in the movie. It’s more like building up to a better understanding of how so many people have gone missing, and what the time discrepancies that pop up actually mean. There are some more suspenseful moments – an older woman talking about mysterious figures she called ‘the Watchers’ or the discovery of a child skeleton in a hidden room, but Howard’s Mill is generally more subdued.
I think it works – Hell House LLC is a great movie, and I’d say it’s better than this, but this movie does amazing with the style and presentation of the topic, and I truly do applaud it.
Howard’s Mill surprised me. Only in rare cases do I get a lot out of faux-documentaries. The Poughkeepsie Tapes is okay, but not great, and some of the best ones, including Hell House LLC and Ghostwatch, are certainly the exception as opposed to the rule. I really enjoyed Howard’s Mill, and it may not be a movie for everyone, but I found it captivating and well-pieced together.
If you’re into these types of films, I’d highly recommend you give it a watch.