The Rental gives us the latest directorial debut from an actor, in this case, it being the talented Dave Franco who also co-wrote the script with mumblecore icon Joe Swanberg. I’m happy to say that it took Dave one film to do what it took his brother James about 20 movies to do – direct a near-perfect film.
Franco has delivered a very valuable and chilling horror thriller. The film follows two couples, brothers Charlie and Josh, and their respective partners Michelle and Mina, who rent an Airbnb vacation home and begin to suspect the house owner is spying on them.
I’m always intrigued seeing an actor makes their directorial debut. I feel their acting background helps, especially with being on set. It allows them to learn a lot. I’m even more intrigued when said actor tackles a genre they aren’t well known for. Dave is recognized more for his comedies, not horror at all, but I feel he has a good understanding of it. He builds atmosphere and suspense well. This was a tense slow-burn film that might not be for everybody, and some might call it boring.
The film is 89 minutes long, and things don’t pick up until about 50 minutes in, as the tense thriller we were watching takes a back seat and becomes a full-on slasher film. Once it makes that switch, I feel the audience finally gets the movie they expected, with the last 30 minutes being the best part. I tend to like films that take their time and don’t overdo it with the gore and violence, so I had no issue with the slowness. There is virtually no blood in this film. You get some splatter but not enough to satisfy the diehards who were looking for a bloody affair.
This is the definition of low budget horror/thriller. I can see this film not getting a good response from the audience. It fits perfect for the VOD experience, in an ideal world where cinemas were open, this is the kind of film that might have had a decent opening weekend but would have had a considerable drop off in its second weekend.
The film has a very talented foursome in the lead roles. I wouldn’t say they were wasted, but I don’t feel Franco gave them as much work as he could have for their talents. His script is not very focused. I think he tried to make himself look better than his actors, which is a rookie mistake.
As much as his directing impressed me, his writing wasn’t as polished. His characters make many mistakes that you would expect to come from teenagers, not adults. They come off brilliant initially, but it’s as if they got dumber as the film went on with their choices.
I’ve seen some of the films that co-writer Joe Swanberg has directed, and his influence is evident in this film. His films have no mainstream appeal whatsoever, and that’s the case here too. This is far from a mainstream film, fitting perfectly with the cinema style that IFC Midnight is known for, and I can see why they picked it up for distribution.
The cast standout for me was Sheila Vand, who plays Mina, a Muslim woman. I liked her arc the best, as I feel Franco used her character well to show how racism in America still exists. A smart way that he did this was by explaining how her character has tried booking the Airbnb only to be denied, yet Dan Stevens, who is white, was approved an hour later for the same reservation. I feel she was the smartest person in the film, as she has the most common sense. Her character sets the third act in motion by being the one who starts noticing the strange events that are happening.
Dan Stevens, who I’ve been a fan of since I first saw him in The Guest, did an excellent job with playing paranoid. I can’t wholeheartedly say why he was because it’s a spoiler in itself, but you can relate as you’d be doing the same things he does if you were in his position.
Being a huge fan of Community, Mad Men, and GLOW, I’ve always enjoyed Alison Brie’s work. However, I feel she is better on the small screen than in feature films. She has rarely impressed me on film. Sadly this is yet another disappointment, although it’s not her fault. From the leads she feels the most wasted, despite being married to Franco, I can’t say there was nepotism. He has her sleeping a lot throughout the film and out of frame. There was so much more that could have been done with her character.
I have always loved Jeremy Allen White in Shameless, and I feel his character in this film is an extension of that role. He is a hothead who’s quick to resort to violence. Despite this, he proves to be smart but has the horrible habit of putting himself down and feeling like he is not good enough.
As the manager in charge of the Airbnb, Toby Huss did well in his small yet significant role. He does what is needed of the character, being creepy and a racist. Not to be judgmental, but he has a perfect look for this kind of task, whether it’s his face or the looks he gives, you get a sense that he is a person that can’t be trusted.
Despite my enjoyment, the film does suffer from genre clichés. It doesn’t offer too many surprises. It follows the familiar beats that many of these home invasion films follow. I feel Franco probably studied many films within the genre and just copied what he liked. There isn’t much originality in the movie, and you can spot many things coming a mile away, that we’re done better in other films. Even a non-horror element to the film was so predictable that it made me sad how easy it was to spot.
The film’s ending is one that I feel will land in the middle with the audience. A part of me enjoyed it and liked how unconventional it is. The other part of me felt like it should have had more, feeling a bit rushed.
While not being as good as what Jordan Peele did with Get Out, it’s far better than what Ryan Gosling did with his directorial debut, Lost River. It falls in the middle of those two, for a first effort, I was impressed by Franco and can’t wait to see what’s next for him behind the director’s chair.
This is a watchable film that is a bit forgettable. I recommend this film to people who have an appreciation for slow-burn horror.