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The main cast of Windfall in an orange grove
Image courtesy of Netflix

Film

Windfall is a Disappointing and Irresponsible Attempt at Hitchcockian suspense

Every Kidnap is a Compromise.

It becomes immediately clear from the opening credits that Windfall, directed by Charlie McDowell, is aiming to follow Hitchcock’s example. The vintage font, the title in quotation marks, the long shot to open – it all screams of golden-age Hollywood suspense. It’s a shame the rest of the film does not live up to this promise.

Windfall follows a burglar, played by Jason Segal, who breaks into the house of a wealthy CEO (Jesse Plemons) and his wife (Lily Collins). Things go south when the couple returns to their property while the burglar is still there. Unfortunately, there is no real sense of threat to their arrival – we have not been given any real time to connect with the thief and so we have no emotional stake. The couple themselves feel unthreatening, and any notion of possible consequences to their arrival is unclear considering the film has just begun.

The ensuing hostage situation has the feel of a substitute teacher trying to deal with a couple of unruly students rather than a high stakes face-off. No time is given to build tension gradually and to let tempers simmer. Instead, we are given outbursts that feel more petulant than emotive. While Jesse Plemons in particular tries his best with the material, occasionally capturing a brilliant grotesqueness, it is clear that performances are hindered by poor direction, encouraging a binary of either regular outbursts or conversational tones. It does caricature the monstrous corruption of wealth, but subtlety is often lacking.

Windfall movie review
Image: Netflix

Any real scene of confrontation is weirdly undercut by attempts at absurd humour. The intention seems to be to make the burglar and his hostages seem ridiculous, and therefore human, but instead it dampens any hope of generating the thrill of suspense. A real problem in a purported crime thriller.

The plot itself stumbles along, as if prodded in the back with a pistol, moving in a rather predictable straight line for most of the film. None of the characters make particularly interesting or even exciting decisions (apart from at the very end), and the film suffers for it. Instead we are given long conversations with attempts at symbolic meaning, yet the attempt at insight into issues of class fails to scratch the surface. We are never actually shown the stark differences in wealth between the characters, and it feels like the focus on economic inequality is shoved aside in favour of the marital angst of the privileged couple.

It is also important to mention the film’s treatment of the Mexican-American gardener (played by Omar Leyva). Introduced with no real developed character, and then quickly dispatched and forgotten, it feels like a critical error. In a film which raises questions of employment and inequality, its own disinterest in the life and character of the Mexican American labourer is particularly irresponsible. The character could have added a real depth to the film, but instead becomes fodder for the narrative of the wealthy elite.

The setting feels ripe for suspense, being very similar in premise to the hugely successful Parasite. The score is also fantastic, striking just the right tone for its intent. Yet, McDowell fails to recognise the importance of building tension, and does not fully engage with the discussions of wealth inequality that seem like they should be at the heart of the script. If you are looking for an insightful suspense thriller on class, morality, and privilege, this is not the film for you.

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Written By

Ryan is a culture writer, aspiring academic, and film enthusiast, with a particular interest in all things horror. He also can often be found, notepad to hand, puzzling over the latest detective games. He tweets at @RyanOShea42.

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