Photo | “Windfall” – High Frequency Entertainment
From the retro font and music of the opening titles, “Windfall” announces itself as a throwback, Hitchcock-esque thriller, and proceeds, in its tidy runtime, to deliver. With its single setting — a lavish vacation home in a remote orange grove — and its small cast of four characters, this tense film does one thing and does it well. It is a grown-up, old-fashioned thriller.
Jason Segel, unnamed throughout, like all the characters, plays a man who is rifling and robbing the beautiful empty home. Segel usually plays loveable lugs, but he’s put his large form to menacing effect here and, when he looms in doorways or over the other characters, we are discomfited by a genuinely scary loner. The question “Man or Muppet?” is not hard to answer with this role. (And the answer is not “muppet.”)
The gorgeous house that Segel robs belongs to a man and his wife, played by Jesse Plemons and Lily Collins. Plemons is a tech billionaire, with his face on framed magazine covers and a deeply irritating bluster about him. Collins’ wife character is harder to read, perfectly so. Their ongoing marital negotiations are so well written; the audience learns more about their feelings for each other throughout their hostage ordeal. The changing dynamics and shifting allegiances are what make this movie so interesting to watch.
Throughout the film, you never know if any of these three people are going to reveal something, turn on one another, help one another or even kill one another. It keeps you guessing right until the very end, which, as I mentioned, arrives with merciful swiftness after the very beginning. It’s not just that I appreciate short movies, although I do; it’s that the tight running time served the taut execution perfectly.
“Windfall” reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope,” which famously was shot to look like a single unbroken take, and occurs in one apartment with just a few characters over just a few hours. “Windfall” has that same theatrical feeling of a movie that could have actually begun as a stage play. This presented a tightly defined situation and worked through it thrillingly.
Anything that was developed was shown with an admirable economy, and I just love to see that enacted. Plemons, who is simply a terrific and weird actor, told us so much by simply yelling, “Babe?” throughout the house in the first couple of minutes of his role. And this exact line is echoed later with dramatic and satisfying results. It sounds simple, but that one perfectly chosen and delivered word says so much.
It’s easy to discount Collins because of her involvement in the ludicrous TV show “Emily in Paris” and other lightweight projects, but she uses her naivete to excellent effect here. Like Segel, she masterfully twists the kind of roles we usually see her in. Plemons, for his part, is already established as a brilliant chameleon, presumably aware of the unsettling effect his seemingly bland face has. Does anyone else think the way he starts off looking like Matt Damon and then veers into uncanny territory is just terrifying?
If you ever feel like there aren’t enough movies for grown-ups out there, “Windfall” is such a film. It felt realistic in that no one was spectacularly heroic or brilliant. Both the criminal and his victims were believably inept, which made for a compelling story. It’s violent in parts, but not gory, and there is no CGI. Sometimes they do make them like they used to.
“Windfall” is now streaming on Netflix.
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