Review: Strong Cast Helps Keep ‘The Rental’ Intriguing
By Daniel Rester
Bandon can’t help but look beautiful. Even when it is lensed to look ominous, like in The Rental, the coastal town in Oregon still shines. I’ve been there a few times as I only live a few hours away from it. I recommend visiting, though The Rental might have you thinking otherwise.
Directed by comedic actor Dave Franco in his directorial debut, The Rental finds the entertainer in thriller-horror territory. He co-wrote the project with mumblecore champion Joe Swanberg from a story by the two of them and Mike Demski. Franco is the latest comedian recently to dip into darker areas with directing, following such talents as Jordan Peele with Get Out (2017) and John Krasinski with A Quiet Place (2018).
The Rental follows two couples as they get away for a weekend in order to celebrate a work accomplishment. Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand) are the co-workers, while Michelle (Alison Brie) is Charlie’s girlfriend and Josh (Jeremy Allen White) is Charlie’s brother and Mina’s boyfriend. They book a house on the coast and are greeted uncomfortably by the house owner, Taylor (Toby Huss).
As the time passes, awkward situations between the couples make things tense. Mina is on edge about everything because of Taylor, while Charlie may not be the kind guy on the surface that he displays. It only gets worse when one of the four discovers hidden cameras in the house.
Franco’s film does not play out like a typical stalk-and-slash horror film, which will please some and annoy others. I found it fresh at times, uneven at other times. The core idea of staying in a foreign home, hotel, etc. and being watched isn’t anything new; see everything from Psycho (1960) to Vacancy (2007) to 13 Cameras (2015) for examples. But the way Franco unfolds his story is different.
This all starts out as a relationship drama/character piece. It then slowly drips in some thriller elements throughout. The third act then lets it rip and it becomes a horror film. The transformation doesn’t go completely smooth, but it also isn’t jarring. While the script could have balanced the pieces better, Franco as a director does a fine job of establishing the overall atmosphere early on. He uses lots of wide shots with dark blue textures and has a pulsing music score.
The director is immensely aided by a fine cast. Stevens has shined in previous horror projects like The Guest (2014) and Apostle (2018), and he does so again here. The same goes for Vand, star of the moody vampire flick A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). Both of them get the most to do as Charlie and Mina set up a lot of the dramatic stakes. Brie (Franco’s real-life wife) and White are also fine, though Michelle and Josh are admittedly less interesting. Huss does a lot with a little, playing Toby in a way where you are never sure about the strange homeowner; is he just a racist asshole, or a killer too?
I think Franco the director is better than Franco the writer. The Rental plays out in unexpected ways at times, but other times it is very familiar. He needs to work on balancing his three acts too if he’s going to play with genre templates; the third act feels really short and rushed. Still, he does some skillful work behind the camera and gets strong performances out of Stevens and Vand. That keeps The Rental entertaining enough for a first directorial effort. I look forward to seeing what he does for his sophomore picture.
My Grade: 6.5/10 (letter grade equivalent: B-)
MPA Rating: R (for violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexuality)
Running Time: 1h 28min
USA Release Date: July 24th (VOD/limited release)