Netflix goes Hitchcockian in this collision of the classes.
Without any awareness of the Hitchcockian tag—impossible, what with it being The Point in the marketing, but let’s try—Windfall is the best advert yet for Ojai, California. Right from the get-go, director and co-writer Charlie McDowell serenely guides viewers around a gorgeous hacienda with an Eden of Pixie tangerines and the Topatopa within eyeshot. In short, this is a fetching property, easily bearing a price tag in the millions. It’s an item someone in the style of our unofficial tour guide (Jason Segel), a daring blend of off-duty Sheriff Hopper and the designer-disheveled-ism of modern tech bros, would possess. Or maybe host the Roys if they are to reattempt family therapy.
The latter might be out of the question, however, due to a very simple fact: He doesn’t own the place. All that walking and furniture-interfacing are burglar-minded. Those jolting discords in Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrians’ otherwise somber overture make sense now. Together with the rolling drums, Gina Luciani’s nibbling flutes, and Virginia Figueiredo’s slithering clarinets, the score is the best primer for the story’s impending shades of moral gray—or even primal dark. In fact, “impending” is only mere minutes after the tour as approaching the front door are the actual key holder, a tech CEO (Jesse Plemons), and his plus one, a most-attentive philanthropist (Lily Collins).
Although Windfall seems to acknowledge the Master of Suspense as a whole, its narrative pieces from Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker (from a story also by them, plus McDowell and Segel), also reach out to Michael Haneke, in particular his Funny Games. That said, McDowell’s film comments not on violence as catharsis but instead society’s lopsided design, despite the same “vacation turns awry” framework.
Not the most visual-driven of sociological angle, but flourishes like the Art Deco type in the credits or compositions that play with depth from Isaiah Donté Lee can still catch the eye, even if they risk receiving the “cute” remark from viewers who idolize Hitchcock or Classic Hollywood cinema. As profiles and worldviews that rarely shake hands are doing just that, there are raised voices and injuries. But they are not the main attraction. The script is the main beneficiary, and McDowell understands that. His visualist side empathizes.
The central players chosen for Windfall represent that understanding. As you might have noticed, Segel, Collins and Plemons don’t have names, nor will they reveal them to one another. Designation, then, is based on the script’s expressions that they are concepts best described as “too rich,” “just rich” and “not rich,” generally upfront enough to depress the human element. Our principal trio, then, has to be strong enough to keep it afloat.
And our alums of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Okja, and Game Night are exactly that. Segel makes it possible to sympathize with his “nobody,” to see his decisions as the result of having no choices. Plemons’ CEO is loud when reciting the talking point of willing benchwarmers and handout seekers, and he’s even louder being someone whose spirit is tickled-pink when interacting with lowlifes. Collins effortlessly tells the story of a woman with skills beyond a marionette to the husband and a therapist to the captor, lending every slip of the truth about her gilded life the desired shock.
Still, the more into which there is to read about the performances, the brighter the sign that says Windfall is a writer’s film. For some, this can be a “one-and-done” affair, rather ironic when one sees pennies from heaven. But there’s no stopping the feeling that it’s all by design, or at the least it’s OK with drawing the line. As long as the world continues to correspond to how the Nobody, the CEO, or the Wife sees it, McDowell’s film stays evergreen. It would share the same trait of the sight of the dollar, the might of it, the sting of it, and, in simpler terms, the influences of Hitchcock.
Windfall is currently streaming on Netflix.