Film Review – Windfall
We happen upon a man (Jason Segel) wandering amongst a grove of orange trees. He picks a few off and helps himself to a bite. The man then makes his way to a beautiful desert home with a long pool, gardens, and a gorgeous view of the surrounding hills. He takes a moment to get comfortable, has a seat in one of the outdoor patios to take in the sights, and helps himself to a drink of orange juice. We quickly realize that this man is not the owner of this property. Once the man has gotten his fill of this lavish residence, he sets to work robbing it. However, things turn upside down when the owner of the house (Jesse Plemons) and his wife (Lily Collins) show up unexpectedly.
Windfall (2022) has enough to make for a fascinating thriller. We have three talented actors stuck in a single location trying to outsmart one another. This can be the recipe for success, but director Charlie McDowell (along with screenwriters Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker) has trouble maintaining the momentum. After the stakes are firmly set, the narrative has nowhere to go. Everything moves in a circular fashion, with one contrivance after another popping up to keep the three characters stuck in place. The frustration they feel being caught in a stalemate starts to bleed into the film itself – we start wondering how exactly the story will work its way out of a corner. Unfortunately, it never really does.
The central point of tension revolves around money. The man – who is never identified – keeps the owner and his wife (also not named) hostage until they are able to pay him off. It’s revealed that the owner is a wealthy tech CEO and offers to pay his captor enough cash (half a million, to be precise) to help him escape. Strangely, the CEO even walks the man through each step of the process, explaining that ordering that kind of money is not as simple as going to the bank and having it withdrawn. We learn that it’ll take about a day and half to get the funds delivered to the estate, and so the three must sit together and wait it out. But like all thrillers, simple plans never work out as they should.
It’s this stretch, when our characters are locked together trying to kill time before the money arrives, that things begins to waver. Although Jason Segel, Lily Collins, and Jesse Plemons make the most out of what is given to them, there isn’t enough material to maintain the suspense through the ninety-minute runtime. The fact that the characters are not named also doesn’t help. Much of their backstories are hazy at best, providing little context into who they are. Jason Segel is a charismatic and funny actor, but he is tasked to downplay his skills to portray the intruder as lonesome, unhinged, and a bit of a buffoon.
Of the three, Plemons’ CEO is easily the most engaging. Plemons plays him with bravado and self-absorption, creating a person who has all the wealth and privilege to go along with his pompous attitude. Through his performance, Plemons allows the CEO to have the fortitude to be successful but lacks the perspective to see that he is alone. Plemons is very good here, and anytime he is not in a scene, the tone noticeably dips. Oddly enough, Lily Collins’ character is designed to be in the middle of the three. Sadly, the wife is not given enough dimension for us to understand her. A late-night conversation she has with the man falls flat, and the decisions she makes in the second half make little sense.
Isiah Donté Lee’s cinematography establishes the property with static, moody shots. Since we are relegated to a small handful of areas, the camerawork is effective in reworking scenes with different contexts. An early shot of the house may establish its beauty, comfort, and luxury, but the exact same shot near the end will have a completely different feeling. The visuals are accompanied by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ atmospheric music. Their compositions have an eccentric, off-kilter style, helping to turn the home into a house of horrors. If anything, the production design, cinematography, and music are the big draws here.
Windfall does eventually end its standoff with a climax standard to the genre – often involving bloodshed. Yet, the more it adheres to the requirements of a thriller, the less believable it becomes. The narrative stumbles its way to the finish line, grasping at straws to keep us invested. This is most evident in the introduction of a fourth character, whose participation is mishandled so badly that it’s almost laughable. By the final shot, any sense of coherence or plausibility has flown right out of the window. The production had all the parts needed to make something great but was unable to put it all together.