Dave Franco's directing debut The Rental offers short, sharp house horror: Review
We’ve all heard the stories: The Uber driver from hell, the Airbnb guest who wouldn’t leave. The Rental, though, may be the sharing economy’s first dedicated horror movie: a neat, nasty little thriller with a brutally effective final third.
Of course, that’s not at all what startup CEO Charlie (Legion's Dan Stevens) is thinking of when he blithely books a weekend at a gorgeous beach house on the Oregon coast, along with his wife, Michelle (GLOW star Alison Brie), his work partner Mina (Snowpiercer's Sheila Vand), and her boyfriend, Josh (Jeremy Allen White), who also happens to be Charlie's brother.
The idea is to celebrate the seed funding of Charlie and Mina's tech company, but the cracks begin to show almost as soon as they pile into their BMW SUV: Josh insists on bringing his little French bulldog despite the no-pets rule, and why did the owner of the house accept Charlie's booking request, but not Mina's — is it because her last name is Mohammadi?
She's determined to confront the caretaker — a taciturn Marlboro Man type named Taylor (Toby Huss) — about it as soon as they meet; Taylor brushes off her pointed questions, but there's something odd in his welcoming spiel, an insinuating friendliness heavily dabbed with passive aggression.
It's clear, too, that Mina and Josh are a mismatched pair; she's a brilliant, socially progressive tech entrepreneur who looks great in a denim jumpsuit, he's a college dropout and part-time Lyft driver with a record for assault going back to his fraternity days.
A schism over whether or not to take the MDMA they've brought along quickly reveals other fissures: the sexual tension buzzing between Charlie and Mina; the growing odd-girl-out status of Brie's brittle, relentlessly chipper Michelle; the fact that maybe nobody is paying attention to that poor dog. By the end of the first night, more than one of those issues has come to a head; by the start of the second, they've got bigger problems.
Rental is the first feature-length film from Dave Franco, following his brother James Franco into the actor-turned-director breach, and he’s not immune to a few rookie missteps: Characters tend to speak in chunks of exposition, and the churn of the story's engine sputters at first, coming to life in fits and starts.
The fact that so much of the script, by Franco and indie stalwart Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies, Netflix's Easy), reads as straight Sundance-y drama turns out to be one of the movie's best tricks, though: In letting the audience sit with these two pairs, they actually become people, not just meatbags destined for terror. Their bourgeoise-millennial affectations — the molly! the seed funding! the SUV! — may make some viewers gladly root for the boogeyman; others will be too busy furiously canceling their own weekend getaways to care. B+
The Rental is available in select drive-ins, theaters, and on demand July 24th.