I really hate home invasion movies.
Seriously, it’s always the same thing. Some mysterious stranger breaks into an empty house and hangs out for a few days, trying on clothes and smoking cigars and drinking whatever’s available in the refrigerator. Eventually, the couple who own the house comes home. They get held hostage. The stranger wastes a lot of time trying to be intimidating. The husband always tries too hard to take control of the situation. The wife tries to keep everyone calm. The stranger is poor. The husband is rich. The stranger and the wife form a connection. Secrets are revealed. Blah blah blah.
Don’t get me wrong. There have been a few good home invasion movies. There are some directors who can pull it off and make a film compelling despite telling an overly familiar story. Ruggero Deodato brought some life to the genre, with a little help from David Hess and Giovanni Lombardo Radice, in The House At The Edge of the Park. For the most part, though, the home invasion genre has led to some of the stagiest and most dramatically inert films ever made.
Consider Windfall, which premiered on Netflix earlier this month. Starring Jason Segel, Lily Collins, and Jesse Plemons, the film has a talented cast. It’s directed by Charlie McDowell, who previously made a very intriguing film called The One I Love. Like Windfall, The One I Love was largely confined to one location but, unlike Windfall, McDowell still managed to use that location to craft an intelligent and compelling film that never felt stagey. The house in which Windfall takes place is lovely to look at. The film has many of the ingredients to be a success but it doesn’t have a particularly clever or even interesting script and, as such, it falls flat.
Segel, Collins, and Plemons play three characters who aren’t actually given names. Segel plays the home invader, who is credited as being “Nobody.” Plemons is the CEO, a billionaire who is responsible for putting people out of work and who makes his employee signs NDAs. Collins in the Wife, who is secretly taking birth control pills. Segel may be a criminal but he’s not a very good criminal, as becomes clear as he continually finds himself being manipulated by his hostages. Plemons is selfish and never stop talking down to Segel, even when the latter is pointing a gun at him. Collins claims that she works very hard at running a charity that her husband set up but it’s obvious that she and and her husband have a strained relationship, even before Segel shows up. There’s a few heavy-handed attempts at social relevance, with Segel and Plemons debating whether or not Plemons deserves to be a billionaire. The film ends with a twist that Godard or Bunuel could have pulled off but here, it just falls flat. The action is just too predictable and dramatically inert for Windfall to be anything more than a movie about three talented performers acting up a storm while trying to bring three boring characters to life.
Windfall is a very much a film of its time, both in its focus on inequality and it’s minimalist style. Like Malcolm and Marie, it’s the type of one-location, small crew film production that was popular at the height of the COVID pandemic and the CEO and his wife heading to their vacation home to hide out from the world will undoubtedly remind some viewers of the wealthy people who were able to isolate themselves during the early part of the pandemic. So, the film has some historical value if not much dramatic value. In the end, Windfall serves as a reminder that, when combined with Malcolm and Marie, Netflix has pretty much cornered the market on pretentious, one-location films.