Directed by Charlie McDowell | written by McDowell, Jason Segal and Justin Lader | 92 min | ▲▲▲△△ | Netflix
Here’s a film from the director of The One I Love, an indie science fiction picture from a few years back that I really liked. Like the earlier picture this one’s set in a luxurious vacation home with a small cast, but otherwise, tonally, it’s quite different.
What we get here is a pared down, existential thriller featuring a few characters with no name. Structurally, it shows off all the hallmarks of a picture green-lit during the pandemic (small cast, single location, plenty of screen time outdoors) and at a clean 92 minutes it hits its targets with an admirable precision and concision.
Jason Segal is a burglar who has broken into the desert retreat of a tech billionaire. He’s looking for money (and maybe a little payback) and has found some, along with a gun. Just as he’s about to depart when the man and his wife arrive for the weekend — they’re played by Jesse Plemons and Lily Collins. Having purloined a bit more cash from the wealthy couple, Segal’s character is about to depart when he sees a camera hidden in the tree. This changes the stakes. He’s going to want a lot more money now.
The casting is interesting here. Segal brings a lot of likability to the role — we sense his frustrations in life while not knowing anything about him. He’s desperate and angry while he doesn’t come across as a professional criminal — he’s more like someone who’s been pushed beyond his comfort zone due to chronic inequity in his life, and he knows who’s responsible. That said, his efforts to be considerate of the people he’s threatening put him in an odd space. I wonder if they had cast someone a little more comfortable with anger, how that might have changed the film’s tone. Someone associated with more tough-guy roles. It might have tipped our sympathies more to the couple. Not to say what’s going on here doesn’t work.
Plemons is an actor with a lot of shades, though his asshole CEO is a little predictable. I wished he was also a little less of a schmuck, where the audience could revel in some of his intensity or perhaps some unexpected brilliance or manipulative tactics, but his every effort to get on top of this situation is painfully transparent.
Collins is the picture’s secret weapon. It doesn’t work without what she brings in its final act, which is plenty satisfying. I think it’s hard for a picture like this — which could be staged in a black box theatre with one or two props — to really stick the landing, but Windfall does by leaning heavily on noirish tropes and letting Collins carry the day.