2022, Unrated, 92 mins. Collins
Jesse Plemons as CEO / Jason Segel as Nobody / Lilly Collins as Wife
Directed by Charlie McDowell / Written by Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker
I'm a sucker for minimalist psychological thrillers, and the new Netflix produced WINDFALL is about as simple and economical as they come.
McDowell directed affair involves a desperate man breaking into the remote
vacation home of a famous and wealthy tech billionaire, leading to him
holding said businessman and his wife hostage when his break and enter
goes south pretty fast. With a fairly taut screenplay by Justin Lader and
Andrew Kevin Walker (the latter who most famously penned films like SEVEN,
SLEEPY HOLLOW, and the underrated 8MM), WINDFALL plays very much like a
self contained, three actor stage play that gets a lot of creative mileage
out of its mostly one setting locale as well as the solid and complex
power play character dynamics that develops between these three souls.
It builds to a fairly great crescendo, only to sort of
disappointingly flatline in a finale that doesn't completely work, but the
richly delineated performances from the cast really helps seal the deal.
WINDFALL has a
wonderfully quiet, dialogue-free opening sequence - roughly ten minutes -
that introduces us to a man (Jason Segal) casually enjoying the sunny
weather in what appears to be remote California.
He grabs and eats an orange off of a tree, he rests and relaxes on
one of the outdoor patio chairs, and then decides to migrate into a lavish
home...and it's at this point when things get a bit weird.
The man seems oddly infatuated with his indoor surroundings and
stumbles his way through various rooms.
Then he flagrantly breaks a glass that he was drinking out
of...then goes into the bathroom and abruptly urinates in the shower...and
then proceeds to ransack the place of its money and jewelry.
It becomes abundantly clear that this guy isn't the owner of the
dwelling, but rather a nobody burglar (the screenplay credits this
character as Nobody) that's only interested in taking whatever he
can pocket and then fleeing the scene.
Just as Nobody is
about to make a clean break, the actual homeowner couple abruptly returns
to spoil his thieving party: They are (screenplay accredited) Wife (Lilly
Collins) and CEO (Jesse Plemons). The
pair hope that their pilgrimage to this home out in the middle of nowhere
and away from everything and everybody will give them some much needed
de-stressing downtime, but when they discover Nobody prowling around he
quickly takes the couple hostage within their own home.
Nobody is not the swiftest of criminal minds and obviously has not
thought his robbery through all that well (like, for instance, not
noticing until the last minute that the property contains surveillance
cameras...which is problematic because he's unmasked).
Fearing that he may or may not have been recorded during his
break-in, Nobody begins a desperate attempt at negotiating a ransom fee of
half a million dollars from the affluent CEO, but even a powerful man of
industry like him can't secure such an amount at the drop of a hat. The earliest that he can get that sum dropped off is a day,
which means that Nobody has to keep a watchful eye on this couple until at
least the next afternoon, complicating his life immensely.
WINDFALL - right
from its tastefully rendered and stylish opening title card sequence -
seems to chiefly evoke classic thrillers of yesteryear while trying to
carve out a creative path uniquely its own.
There have been many films in the past that, yes, feature a small
number of characters finding themselves trapped within a limited setting
(or hostage situation) that involves the parties trying to assume ultimate
control over each other, and WINDFALL is definitely no different in this
though, McDowell (husband to Collins) manages to craft his film in loving
wide shots and carefully orchestrated long takes that gives the film a
strong evocation of a stage play while feeling cinematic all the same.
In terms of pure technique, it takes a filmmaker that knows what he
wants (and knows what he's doing) to generate ample visual interest in his
limited surroundings and foster decent forward narrative momentum, and
McDowell does that here for the most part.
WINDFALL doesn't get too hyper stylized to the point of becoming
distracting, nor is it lacking in any discernible style to the point of
slowing things down to a snail's pace.
Thankfully, the film is also a lean and mean 90-plus minutes, which
is an appropriate length considering the inherent limitations of the
premise and storytelling.
And the longer
the film progresses the more interesting the character arcs become.
Nobody isn't portrayed as a bubbling moron, but he's not surefooted
nor completely bright when it comes to his crime spree itself, and some of
the macabre humor to be had in WINDFALL is in seeing this poor sap
assessing his situation and plotting his next move with this couple...even
if his next moves aren't that well conceived.
Both Nobody and the couple are respectively trying to plot an exit
strategy out of this house, which becomes more difficult for them when
Nobody finds a random gun in one of the rooms, giving him a dominating
edge. Still, these three
people have a tense evening to kill until the next morning and potential
money drop to end this dire situation, and they do everything from
watching old movies to having conversations that grow increasingly
personal. All of the parties
have their own insecurities - in one form or another - that they hope to
use as leverage to get out of this pickle of a scenario.
The CEO of this
narrative is clearly a Mark Zuckerberg stand-in, a person that's so
disgustingly wealthy that he really doesn't know precisely how much he's
worth. He's also an abrasively arrogant man that thinks the entire
business world is against him ("I wake up every day with a target on
my back!"); you literally want Nobody, at times, to kick the living
tar out of him. Part of CEO's
narcissism is his belief that he's the most intelligent person in this
nightmare predicament; he attempts to one-up Nobody by playing mental mind
games to give him the upper hand. Plemons
is stellar at playing this egomaniacal corporate heavyweight, but one weak
area of the film is its portrayal of the pertinent class warfare that's
clearly on display between him and Nobody; it's a bit too on the nose and
black and white. The intruder
thinks that this CEO has amassed a fortune through nefarious means (making
him the de facto enemy of the people, in his mind), whereas the CEO is
such a pompous elitist that he can't believe that this lowly hoodlum is
robbing a man of his stature. I
think that the foundations of a thoroughly compelling dissection of the
halves and have nots are rooted into the screenplay here, but it never
seems to tap into the dark underbelly of the class-rage themes all that
well. As a rumination on how
billionaires and people of limitless privilege foster empires at the
expense of those lower on the economic ladder, WINDFALL kind of falls
flat. It wants to say a lot
about these timely themes, but never seems equal to the task.
Wonky social commentary aside, the film also culminates with a messy finale and would-be shocking twist of fate that I don't think the story completely earns. Saving WINDFALL, however, is the actors, and on top of Plemons we have the wonderfully atypical casting of Segal (normally known for comedic roles), who gets to sink his teeth into a fidgety man teeth-clenched anxiety that could blow at any waking moment. Collins is also good in this wife role that could have been rendered so one-note, but instead is afforded more depth and layers than I was frankly expecting. And even though the climax is pretty jarring and makes a somewhat hard to swallow 180 degree turn towards something truly haunting, I enjoyed the journey of WINDFALL building up to it and what a delicious slow-burn, cat and mouse home invasion thriller that McDowell has engineered here, and one that mixes tension with comic absurdity with surprising fluidity.