“Windfall,” the buzzy new Netflix thriller starring Jesse Plemons, Lily Collins and Jason Segel, is a contained, Hitchcockian thriller, one that will leave you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the svelte, 92-minute runtime and whose ending will leave you talking long after you’ve switched over to “Love Is Blind.”
In “Windfall,” Segel plays a burglar who breaks into the sprawling, orange-farm-adjacent estate of a tech dynamo (Plemons) and his young wife (Collins). The only problem is that, in the middle of the break-in, the house’s owners eat home. This leaves Segel in a very awkward position, as he must now deal with them (quickly adding “kidnapping” to his laundry list of offenses), along with other unexpected complications that arise as a result. It’s never easy, is it?
All of this climaxes with a genuinely shocking ending that will leave your jaw on the floor. (It should probably be noted that the script was co-written by Andrew Kevin Walker, who wrote “Seven” and thus is the poet laureate of shocking endings.) It’s an ending we must discuss.
Consider this a major spoiler warning for “Windfall.”
A Quiet Place
Segel’s character, when forced to deal with the two unexpected interlopers (none of the characters have proper names), ties them up and then locks them in an outdoor sauna, barricading it with deck furniture. Plemons has promised Segel that there are no cameras on the property, and no staff or help will show up. Segel takes his measly bounty (around $5,000) and makes his way out to the street. Once he gets in his crappy car, he looks up at a nearby tree and spots it: the cold, unblinking eye of a security camera.
He forces his way back into the compound and corrals his captives (again). A new plan emerges – Segel will extort enough money out of Plemons, who is a tech CEO worth billions of dollars, so that Segel can disappear for good. (One of the movie’s funniest scenes involves the three of them talking about how much Segel will need in order to vanish.) Of course, complications start to show themselves. For one, it’ll take a day for Plemons to get the money, meaning that the three of them will have to bunk together overnight. (It’s implied that Plemons has had to quickly arrange for a payoff before, to a mistress.) And an even bigger problem arrives itself the next day, when the couple’s gardener (Omar Leyva) makes an unexpected appearance.
After Plemons hastily makes an “SOS” to the gardener (he writes “call 911” on a work invoice), Segel now has another hostage. And things are going to get worse before they get better. Actually, things are just going to continue to get worse. There is no “better” in “Windfall.”
Things Get Dark
During one particularly fraught moment, Plemons is arguing with Segel. It’s slowly been insinuated that Segel worked for a company that Plemons had a hand in acquiring and downsizing, although Segel refuses to confirm or deny. The tension is really getting up there. That’s when Plemons decides to leave.
As he takes a step forward towards the door, Segel takes out a gun and points it at Plemons. Plemons keeps railing against him, calling him insignificant, saying that he doesn’t have the guts to pull the trigger. Segel is getting increasingly frustrated. And in a moment of desperation he fires the gun – not into Plemons but into the wall behind him.
The sound is sharp and loud and the groundskeeper, now Segel’s third hostage, jumps up and runs towards the glass doors to the house’s backyard. The gardener trips, goes head first into the very sharp glass. It isn’t good. (If you’ve seen David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” and the scene where the guy impales himself on the coffee table, this has very similar vibes.) His neck starts fountaining blood. Segel rushes over to try and help. He’s in a panic. Nobody has a cell phone. Plemons and Collins just flail around. The entire tone of “Windfall,” which had streaks of comedic flair, changes instantly. This is a much darker movie than you imagined. And it’s only going to get darker.
That Ending Thought
“Windfall,” towards the very end, lulls you into a sense of, if not comfort, then ease. Nobody else will dieyou tell yourself unconvincingly.
Plemons’ assistant drops off the duffle bag full of money ($500,000). Collins retrieves it. Plemons and Collins are tied up, waiting for Segel to leave. That’s when Collins tells Segel that the tattoo, the one on her foot de ella that she is obviously trying to remove, is a rose. Segel barks back that he doesn’t care. It was meant to be a moment of connection that he cruelly untethered.
Segel says to wait until he leaves before they free themselves. But Collins has secreted away a piece of glass from the gardener’s unfortunate, er, accident, and has cut herself loose. As soon as he’s outside the door, she rushes after him with a heavy, ceramic-looking piece of art and bludgeons him to death. (We get some nice twitchy death spasms from Segel.)
Once she returns to Plemons, who is still tied up, she has a look in her eye. Suddenly anything is possible. Earlier in the movie it’s revealed that she’s continued to take her birth control pills, even though Plemons wants to have a child with her. Also they are constantly bickering and he seems like a grade-A goofball. She takes Segel’s gun, points it at Plemons, and unloads it into his chest. Now the billionaire’s money is hers, she can blame his death on Segel, and if she wants she can even pocket that $500,000 as walking around money.
Collins steps outside, free for the first time—from the kidnapping, sure, but also from her husband. She exhales, and steps forward.
And then it ends.
Shocking, to say the least. Clearly she is the character that has suffered from the most emotional distress and intellectual dressing-down. She was constantly being controlled by either Segel or Plemons. But did Segel really have to die?
Recall that earlier in the film, Collins was defending her position to Segel and he countered that she made a trade — she traded her old life, her freedom, for a life of luxury with Plemons (who’s kinda despicable).
And in the end, she makes another trade. In order to get free from Plemons, Segel has to die, so there’s someone to pin the murder on.
The entire film is layered with themes of income inequality. Segel represents the working class who had his life ruined by a rich billionaire. Collins represents someone who moved significantly up in the socio-economic ladder by marrying Plemons, who even paid off her student loans from her. She was privileged. And the gardener, well, he’s the well-meaning lowest rung on the ladder who pays the ultimate price simply for having the gall to put himself out there and pitch an idea to Plemons, which unwittingly put him in harm’s way.
In the end, the billionaire dies. The working class man dies. And the woman who’s lived a life of privilege claws her way out of a trap, relatively unscathed.
We said it was dark.