How to write a better ending for “Windfall”

Endings are the most important part of any story.

Whether it’s a short story, screenplay, novel, film. It’s the ending that counts.

The best endings are surprising, yet inevitable. Ideally the last scene should spin the story on its axis so the reader/viewer revisits and readdresses every preceding scene with new meaning and possibilities. Synapses snap and fuse, mind officially blown. It’s quite a trick to pull off.

“Windfall” is a tense, Hitchcockian thriller that follows a billionaire CEO husband and his wife who stumble onto a sad sack thief when they arrive for a last-minute getaway at their remote picture-perfect vacation home in Ojai, California.

It’s stripped back to this one location to ratchet the tension in this three-hander. Shot a bit like a 1970s Jean-Luc Godard movie. Follows Aristotelian dramaturgy by keeping the drama to one location over two days with people who are intimately bound. Sharply written by Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker. Sharply directed by Charlie McDowell.

Yes, the ending was shocking. But was it good? Was it satisfying? Not really. Even The Hollywood Reporter thought it could have used a tad more foreshadowing.

The wife striking and killing the thief with the marble table sculpture and then shooting the husband to death and escaping with the thief’s money is good but not great.

It’s shocking but not inevitable, unexpected but not moving. That’s where foreshadowing would have helped. How?

Rather than the wife’s violence coming out of the blue to the degree it’s almost unbelievable, subtle hints could have paved the way. So her violence becomes inescapable, almost her destiny. So it’s completely right and so wrong at the same time.

Here are a few ideas that would have made the violence and the story more impactful.

+ Wife’s charity helps prisoners

+ Wife is paranoid about dust

+ Thief’s shoelace snaps when he does it up the first time (so subsequent and ultimate tying up shoelace is not simply happenstance, iterates the thief’s bad luck nothing-ever-goes-right vibe)

+ Wife has spent time in prison

+ Husband taunts wife

+ Wife is in therapy, taking medication

+ Thief threatens couple with a knife rather than a gun in the beginning (to amp up drama and tension when the gun is later uncovered)

+ Wife dusts off a coffee table

+ Wife’s father was killed in prison

+ Husband may have beaten wife in the past

+ Wife had a miscarriage

+ Wife wipes lipstick off the glass

+ Wife adds another $100,000 to the thief’s money (just to be safe)

+ Thief asks how much the marble table sculpture cost (husband has no idea, ask the interior designer, whoever that is)

+ Wife’s miscarriage was actually an abortion

+ Make the marble table sculpture a heavy marble vase (reflects husband’s complaints about lack of flowers, plays on ending)

+ Before stepping out with the bag of money, thief admits he did work at one of the companies the husband down-sized (a touch of justification/redemption before he’s killed)

+ It’s the wife’s gun that’s hidden in the vacation home (so when the husband tells the thief he hasn’t got a gun and the thief finds it, he can say he told the truth while throwing his wife under the bus, explains wife’s capacity to empty round into her husband’s chest)

+ Wife says she wishes her husband was dead

+ Wife wipes her prints off the gun

+ Wife drives off in gardener’s truck

Not flashbacks or set pieces. Nothing too elaborate or too on the nose.

Just a hint, clue, a look, a shadow, a line of dialog is all it takes.

To flip the drama and expectations with a twist at the end is good.

But a twist that twists on itself is even better.

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