Director: Dave Franco
Cast: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss
Runtime: 1 hr 28 mins
Rating: NC16 (Sexual Scene and Violence)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 23 July 2020
Synopsis: Two couples on an oceanside getaway grow suspicious that the host of their seemingly perfect rental house may be spying on them. Before long, what should have been a celebratory weekend trip turns into something far more sinister, as well-kept secrets are exposed and the four old friends come to see each other in a whole new light. Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, Jeremy Allen White, and Sheila Vand star in this unnerving and sophisticated debut thriller from Dave Franco (Neighbors, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Disaster Artist).
‘The Rental’ really wants to be a ‘Friday the 13th’ for the AirBnB crowd, even if its ambition may not be that obvious at the start. That is deliberate, for actor-turned-director Dave Franco and his co-writer Joe Swanberg wants to first immerse you in the tension, secrets and insecurities of the two couples at the heart of their story.
Among the quartet, we are first introduced to Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand), two co-workers who are looking over a beautiful house on the Oregon coast to celebrate the launch of their new start-up. But just as quickly as you may think they are an item, Charlie’s younger brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) steps in and kisses Mina. The awkwardness is written on Charlie’s face, and immediately you know things won’t be as simple between Charlie and Mina.
Together with Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie), the two couples head up to the cliffside AirBnB property. Bit by bit, we get the hint that the weekend isn’t going to be quite so idyllic – much to Charlie’s chagrin, Josh decides on his own to violate the no-pets rule by bringing along his French bulldog Reggie; Mina suspects the caretaker Taylor (Toby Huss) to be a casual racist, believing that the latter had not picked her application after seeing her Middle Eastern name; and an evening walk by the beach reveals that both Josh and Michelle have reservations over the obvious chemistry between Charlie and Mina.
Throw in some MDMA, an open-air hot-tub and you can pretty much can guess that the foursome aren’t going to stay wholesome for much longer. Things however really go downhill when Michelle decides to call Taylor over to fix the hot-tub on their second evening, not before Reggie’s dog goes missing and Mina discovers a tiny camera embedded in a shower head. It does take an hour to build up to that point, but trust us when we say that you do want to stay with the plotting all the way through.
No spoilers here, but we will say it does move quickly in the last third, which will surely satisfy horror aficionados. No matter whose side you are on (Charlie or Michelle’s/ Josh’s or Mina’s), let’s just say it won’t quite matter by the time the killer makes his appearance known and felt to our four protagonists. Those who love a good comeuppance should also be prepared – there is none to be found here, especially since we learn at the end of it that how our couples came to meet such a cruel fate was ultimately just bad luck.
To be frank, the change in pace from a slow-burn character drama to a full-blown slasher thriller is somewhat jarring, so much so that you’ll be wondering if it could not be stayed the former all the way through. Notwithstanding, it is a fine build-up, demonstrating Franco’s excellent grasp of character interplay, especially as he lets the conflict among them simmer and stew until it reaches boiling point. Franco has a talented cast to thank for that too, each of whom pull their weight to make the four-hander in the first hour thoroughly engaging.
It is clear with this debut that Franco is similarly aiming for a career behind the camera, just like his brother James, but if this diabolically smart feature debut is anything to go by, he probably has much sharper instincts. At a lean and efficient one-and-a-half hours, ‘The Rental’ is a surprisingly effective house horror that aims and succeeds in being less shlock- than character-driven. As terrifying as the masked killer within is, it is the human betrayals that pack the more lasting chills, and make this ultimately worth checking in.
(Building up as a character-driven drama in betrayals, secrets and lies before going into full-blown slasher mode, 'The Rental' packs both emotional and visceral chills in a lean and efficient package)
Review by Gabriel Chong