Whenever marketing materials label anything “a Hitchcockian thriller,” beware. The invoking of the great Sir Alfred’s name for any run-of-the-mill suspense drama should not imply it is on the level with the best works of the filmmaker who defined a genre and has become perhaps the most copied director of all time.
The latest attempt, Netflix’s Windfall, starts out with pulsating, ominous music echoing the great scores of frequent Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann, as we see a man (Jason Segel) exploring a remote, nicely appointed home seemingly in the middle of nowhere but with a distinctly Southwestern look. As he wanders nervously in and out, opening drawers and even finding a wad of hundred-dollar bills, a car drives up and from it emerges a couple (Jesse Plemons and Lily Collins) who own the vacation getaway and who bring their suitcases in to get settled.
This unexpected arrival clearly freaks out Segel’s character, who hides behind a wall but is soon spotted by a horrified Collins, and later by Plemons. This clearly is not what he planned when he entered the house, but he now threatens the pair and essentially takes them hostage, not knowing what else to do in the situation. Eventually secure with the cash he has found and comfortable enough to make his getaway, he locks the pair in the sauna and pushes all sorts of furniture and other items against the door to keep them in there for an hour as he takes off.
Making his way through the property to the road where he has parked his car, he is about to take off when he notices a camera device in a tree pointing directly at him — uh oh, he is on surveillance camera. This changes everything, so he goes back to the house where the couple have already broken out of the sauna, retrieves their gun that he had thrown into the fountain when he left, and captures them again demanding to know where the footage to the cameras is.
The encounter between the couple and Segel’s mysterious man continues as slow details about all three start to drift out. Plemons is some sort of billionaire tech-company CEO who is not a good guy to work for, as we can see from a nasty phone call to his assistant in order to get the half-million dollars in cash he has now negotiated in order to get rid of Segel. Collins’ wife is increasingly conflicted about the man she has married, especially when talking alone with Segel. And Segel, though not revealing his connection, could be a disgruntled employee — or not. This all drags on interminably until things pick up with the arrival of the unassuming gardener (Omar Leyva), a lovely and dedicated worker who upon seeing the owners’ car knocks on the door and urges them to come out and see changes he has proudly made since the last time they visited. Unfortunately, he eventually is also taken hostage.
Without revealing where it all goes, let’s just say Hitchcock might have had a better idea. The problem here is director Charlie McDowell — who also collaborated on the story idea with Segel and screenwriters Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven) — doesn’t give us a reason to care about any of these characters, who are written with such one-dimensional shallowness that apparently they couldn’t even be bothered to come up with names for them (Segel’s is listed as Nobody, Plemons is CEO, and Collins is Wife). The dialogue they are given doesn’t even scratch the surface of complexity.
This all seems like something dreamed up to make a pandemic movie: limited cast, limited location and limited imagination. It is a shame because the trio are very fine actors including the ever-reliable Segel; Plemons, who is Oscar nominated for Netflix’s The Power of the Dog; and Collins, the star of one of Netflix’s top series Emily In Paris.
All three actors have producer credits on Windfall in addition to McDowell, Jack Selby, Alex Orlovsky and Duncan Montgomery. It is now streaming on Netflix.
Check out my video review above with scenes from the film. Do you plan to see Windfall? Let us know what you think.
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