WINDFALL. Netflix, 2022. Jason Segel, Lily Collins, Jesse Plemons, Omar Leyva. Director: Charlie McDowell.

   “Chekhov’s gun” is the principle, attributed to the eponymous Russian playwright, that every element introduced into a play should be necessary and extraneous elements should be removed. The gun aspect is largely understood to mean that, if the audience is going to see a gun at the opening of a play, it should be a key element in how the action unfolds later in the play.

   I couldn’t help but think of this while watching Netflix’s Windfall, a satisfying, if incomplete, thriller and black comedy directed by Charlie McDowell (son of actor Malcolm). At the very beginning of the film – in the first 10 minutes or so – the audience witnesses a man (Jason Segel) exploring and rummaging through a beautiful California country house that clearly is not his own.

   We don’t know why he is there, nor what his motivations are. But he seems to be taken with the place and its natural beauty. It also seems as if he is looking for cash. And, perhaps most significantly, he finds a handgun in a drawer.

   Pretty soon, though, Segel’s character is not alone. An upscale couple (Jesse Plemons and Lily Collins) arrives at the home. The break-in turns into a hostage situation. Over the next hour or so, tensions unfold between the three characters – who are never named – with the intruder asking for a giant financial sum from the wealthy husband.

   All of this puts great strain on the computer mogul’s wife, who seemingly has been unhappily living in her philandering husband’s shadow lo these many years. If this sounds like a chamber piece – like a play – you’d be absolutely on the mark. For this is a movie script that could have been written by Chekhov himself.

   Windfall is most certainly a slow burn; it doesn’t offer instantaneous thrills. What it does offer is atmosphere – a sunny quasi-noir disposition that you feel like you have been transported to the French countryside – and a quirky, offbeat sensibility.

   It’s well directed and certainly well cast, with Segel showing that he has a lot of potential for more dramatic roles that don’t require him to be quite so goofy. It just is that the film doesn’t add up to all that much. It certainly aims to be a little more highbrow than many Netflix offerings and, on that level, it succeeds.

   But there’s nothing all that new under the California sun here for those well immersed in the thriller genre. One last note: the aforementioned gun is ultimately fired. More than once.