Windfall Synopsis: A man (Jason Segal) breaks into a tech billionaire’s empty vacation home, but things go sideways when the arrogant mogul (Jesse Plemmons) and his wife (Lilly Collins) arrive for a last-minute getaway.
A seemingly straightforward robbery gets flipped upside down when the socialite homeowner returns home in writer/director Charlie McDowell’s latest, Windfall. I’ve enjoyed seeing the upstart auteur continue to evolve in his verging career. The One I Love showcased a sleight premise elevated through insightful meditations on relationships and a game starring cast (Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss). On the other hand, the science-fiction Sundance yarn, The Discovery, delivered a more imbalanced experience despite its grander reflections on the afterlife.
With Windfall, McDowell utilizes COVID-19 restrictions in a return to his low-key roots. The results land somewhere between the director’s first two productions. McDowell creates a refined and arresting one-room thriller that doesn’t quite land its intended thematic punch.
McDowell’s third outing showcases more of his precise skillset. Paired with Cinematographer Isiah Donté Lee, the two display poised framing choices to relay the posh interior and vast fields of the central setting. The duo’s visual choices create an uneasy atmosphere – an opulent environment where even the most refined luxuries can’t mask the characters’ underlying resentments. I also enjoy how McDowell trusts his material and performers to take center stage. He understands that the premise does not require flashy tricks to enhance the evolving intrigue, implementing a serene touch that never overworks the material.
Windfall delivers a strong canvas for its central stars. Famed comedian Jason Segal articulates restrained dramatic work with compelling results, displaying a cold and calculated loner who remains enigmatic to his captives. Jesse Plemmons scenery-chewing creates a captivating presence as the loathsome tech billionaire, while Lilly Collins conjures lingering dismay as his disengaged wife. At their best, the trio volley volatile exchanges in a war of building frustration between the dissident parties.
Home invasion thrillers are a dime a dozen, so I credit Windfall for presenting a thoughtful deviation from the familiar formula. McDowell pits a disenfranchised loner against the stature of a smug billionaire, presenting a conflict reflective of society’s lingering discontentment between the working class and social elites. The writer/director slowly cooks his underlying social tensions before setting the stage for a tense finale.
Unfortunately, Windfall fails to shape into a meaningful endeavor. McDowell crafts intricate plotting throughout but boasts less understanding of constructing a well-rounded thesis. The third act becomes frustratingly didactic as characters begin to shout their mindsets before culminating in a predictable climax. I think McDowell presents good intentions, although the writer/director ultimately represents class warfare in its most rudimentary terms.
Unevenness aside, Windfall extracts enough intrigue from its well-oiled home invasion yarn. I am excited to see how McDowell continues to grow from here.