Actor Dave Franco co-writes the screenplay alongside Joe Swanberg and makes his directorial debut with The Rental. A horror film where four guests renting a luxury Airbnb get more than they bargained for.
The four vacationers are made up of tech start-up boss Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his wife Michelle (Alison Brie), also along for the ride is his less successful in-need-of-anger-management brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and Josh’s partner Mina, who happens to be Charlie’s business partner. After landing a major client at work, Charlie and the group decide to book a celebratory weekend at an idyllic cliffside house where they can soak up the hot-tub, go for long hikes and indulge in copious drug use. Everything should be fine.
Upon arrival they’re welcomed to the property by Taylor (Toby Huss). Yes he’s creepy but not only that, there’s an immediate confrontation between he and Mina as she accuses him of denying her initial booking request because of her Middle-Eastern name. The second booking made by Charlie was the one that was accepted. Villain alarm bells are well and truly signalled.
To avoid spoiling it I’ll say that within the first half of the film Franco does an admirable job of setting things up and for the most part, getting us hooked. The gloomy, silent setting lays the foundation for terror but in fact, it’s the emotional wrangling between the characters that impacts most. From the jump it’s clear that Josh is insecure about his status with girlfriend Mina because of his jealousy towards she and his brother’s overly friendly working relationship; you’d be forgiven for mistaking which couple is which, early on in the film. This paranoia escalates scene by scene, affecting the other occupants with it as we watch the quartet’s suspicions unravel. This aspect of the film is handled skilfully albeit a little predictably.
To compound the matter, as if the idea of your relationship not surviving the next 48 hours wasn’t bad enough, things ramp up as Franco introduces another layer of tension through technological means when the group discover they are being filmed. I’m sure we’ve all had a similar paranoia when renting a stranger’s home.
Unfortunately, despite all of the good character work, capably realised by the cast; the eery unsettling premise that we can all pretty much relate to; the troubling domesticity of the couples spilling out; the menace of a predator lurking in the bushes. All of these things fall down flat because at the centre of this horror film: there is no real horror. This is largely because the film meanders between tense family drama and killer stalker horror. It doesn’t confidently choose either and as a result, we’re left with what feels like two separate unfinished films begrudgingly meshed together. The pacing is problematic too, as the film only checks out at around 90 minutes but it’s a good hour before anything really happens which would be fine if it was a two hour drama or a fully fledged horror film but again, the execution here is off. I felt like I’d been pulled too far down the path of one genre only to be teased by another.
The Rental is a technically admirable achievement for Dave Franco’s first directing effort. The framing is solid, the premise is evocative, the actors elevate what could have been one-note characters into relatable personalities but ultimately it’s the film’s inability to convincingly settle on a genre and see it through that makes The Rental feel slow and anticlimactic.