CAST: Jason Segel, Jesse Plemons, Lily Collins, Omar Leyva
RUNNING TIME: 92 mins
BASICALLY…: A thief (Segal) breaks into the holiday home of a tech billionaire (Plemons), only for him and his wife (Collins) to suddenly arrive…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
With its strictly limited cast, singular remote location, and a script that relies more on dialogue than grand visuals to tell its story, it’s easy to tell that Windfall, from director Charlie McDowell, was probably conceived and shot during the COVID-19 industry lockdown of 2020 (maybe 2021 at a stretch). It’s as though McDowell decided that the pandemic wasn’t going to deter him from making a movie, so he and writers Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker (the latter best known for his scripts to Se7en and 8MM) set out to create something that required minimal cast and crew, preferably set somewhere convenient where social distancing could be realistically practised, and required the actors to spend most of their time in one location together, in a protective bubble, if you will.
All of that is purely speculative, of course, but even if that’s exactly how it went down, McDowell managed to get a pretty decent movie out of the whole mess: one that’s certainly far from perfect, but one that does hook you in pretty quick and doesn’t let go until much closer towards the end.
Following some nifty old-school Hollywood opening credits, set to a neatly brooding score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, we open on a nice, expansive villa in the middle of the desert, where a lanky nameless guy (Jason Segal) is seen wandering about like he owns the place. Except, he doesn’t: he’s a thief who has intruded upon the property, and is none too pleased when the villa’s real owners – an arrogant tech mogul (Jesse Plemons) and his wife (Lily Collins) – suddenly drive up, intending to spend an unplanned weekend there together. The thief holds the couple hostage until they give him whatever money they happen to have lying around, but certain circumstances force the three of them to spend an extra day-and-a-half together before the thief can finally make off. Within that time, harsh truths are faced, relationships are tested, and there’s even enough room for a night-time viewing of ¡Three Amigos! to pass the time.
It is a film that more or less knows what it is, which genre to stay well within, and when to flex its more cinematic visual style over its dialogue-dependent method of storytelling. Following the home invasion guidelines almost to a tee, Windfall doesn’t strive to be more than it was conceptually designed to be (probably because they couldn’t afford to have more locations or actors because, again, COVID), which does make some parts easy to see coming, especially when another, potentially major character is introduced more than halfway in. However, McDowell is quick to implement a neat, old-fashioned pace which, like most other things from the musical score to portions of the editing, pays homage to the classic Hitchcock method of drawing out suspense for as long as it needs to be. The director has a firm grip on his preferred style, using it to keep building and building upon each little bit of information we are given about these people, until we have enough of an understanding as to who they are and what their motivations are without even learning their real names.
The movie is very much a three-hander between Jason Segal, Jesse Plemons and Lily Collins, and each actor contributes greatly to an awkward trio dynamic that has enough power to carry the whole movie. Segal, playing against type as the bitter, if somewhat pathetic, home intruder, does well at playing a guy trying his best to hold himself and the worsening situation together, while Plemons gleefully unleashes his inner douchebag as someone you’d be mostly okay with letting die at the hands of an insecure thief like Segal. The film’s secret weapon, though, is Collins; having to bear both Segal’s unsympathetic rhetoric and Plemons’ condescending attitude throughout a majority of the movie, the actress embodies the most mystery out of the three, and impressively keeps it all together until the final few minutes.
Ah, those final few minutes. The film’s final act does already begin to fall apart, with on-the-nose dialogue and, again, some all-too predictable consequences for at least one on-screen character, but it’s the very end of the picture when it feels as though the writers had no idea how to properly conclude their little story, and so came up with a resolution that really doesn’t add up when you begin to think about it. You’ll be questioning certain motivations, as well as whatever sympathy you may have had for particular people, much more than feeling fully satisfied, and sadly it’s an ending that just seems like it was written for pure shock value than having any substantial meaning to the rest of the film (which, given that this is co-written by the guy who wrote one of cinema’s most notorious endings in Se7en, seems particularly disappointing).
At least for the most part, Windfall does grab you in to its tight and restrictive little world, and until the ball finally drops it manages to keep you fairly interested in whatever comes next.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Windfall is a decent home invasion thriller that is anchored by a neatly old-fashioned style and three strong performances, but a questionable final resolution nearly undoes its admirable low-key ambition.