Dave Franco makes his feature film directorial debut with The Rental, an intense thriller about the downside of renting a private home for a vacation. Franco said the inspiration for The Rental came from his personal paranoia about home-sharing, and the initial threat that leads to the downfall of the unfortunate couples at the heart of the story is legitimately scary because it could happen to any of us.
The Rental begins with business partners Mina (Sheila Vand) and Charlie (Dan Stevens), who put off more than a friendship vibe when we first meet them, checking online as they plan a relaxing getaway weekend. They find the perfect rental property and Mina’s boyfriend, Josh (Jeremy Allen White) – who happens to be Charlie’s brother – is all in on the idea of a weekend away as is Michelle (Alison Brie), Charlie’s wife.
There’s a weird undertone to the trip as the couples hit the road together. There’s something unsaid yet nibbling on the edges of the conversation on the drive. Add in the fact Josh has adamantly insisted his adorable dog join them, even though pets are strictly forbidden at the rental house, and the tension is palpable.
When the couples arrive at that the gorgeous coastal property, Taylor (Toby Huss) is there to check them in and show them around. He explains it’s his brother’s place, but he lives nearby and handles all the rentals. He makes it clear he can swing by at any time, something that doesn’t sit well with Mina.
It turns out Mina tried to book the rental herself but was turned down. Is it because of her nationality? She immediately leaps to that conclusion as the rental company approved white guy Charlie’s application right away. Mina doesn’t mince words and calls Taylor out as a racist after making him confirm he’s the one who handles bookings. It’s not the best way to kick off what’s supposed to be a relaxing weekend, but Mina doesn’t care. She’s not about to be the target of someone’s prejudiced views without speaking up and confronting blatant racism.
Once Taylor leaves the foursome, the tension somewhat eases as the friends claim their spots and prepare for a weekend free of work and worries. Michelle’s set on going for a hike the following day and bows out of the evening’s partying, opting to hit the sack instead of drinking herself into oblivion.
Unfortunately, that one decision sets up an escalating series of events that finds the couples’ relationships ripped apart at the seams. It also sets the stage for a horrifying discovery that’s every Airbnb or HomeToGo client’s worst nightmare.
If you’re a dog person, you might spend a significant portion of The Rental worrying about the canine stowaway. Is anyone watching the furry kid? Why is the cute little French bulldog allowed to roam around unfamiliar territory?
Pondering the fate of the dog becomes more fulfilling than worrying about the outcome destined for three of the four human characters as The Rental enters its final act. The dog’s obviously an innocent bystander while all but one of the people at the center of the film make increasingly despicable decisions that seal their fate.
Franco did a terrific job of casting his first feature, corralling Dan Stevens (Legion, Downton Abbey), Sheila Vand (Snowpiercer, Undone), Jeremy Allen White (Shameless) and his extremely talented wife, SAG Award winner Alison Brie (Mad Men, GLOW), for the horror/thriller that relies on the characters’ declining hold on reality and their increasing fragile minds more than it does jump scares.
Shot in the Pacific Northwest, cinematographer (Christian Sprenger) does an excellent job of capturing the isolation the couples feel as they become aware they’re targets of a mad man.
Dave Franco’s rookie effort isn’t without a few bumps in the road. However, if you’re not screaming at the characters on screen to stop making ridiculous mistakes, then you’re not fully invested in a horror film anyway, are you? Potential victims who make wise choices are rarely seen and outside the norm. If everyone acted logically, the horror genre would lose all its thrills and adrenaline-pumping chase scenes/kills. Where’s the fun in that?
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexuality
Running Time: 89 minutes
Release Date: In select drive-ins, theaters and On Demand July 24, 2020
Studio: IFC Films