For The Rental, Dave Franco moves into the director’s chair and for his first time at bat, he does a really solid job of crafting an atmospheric whodunit thriller that feels a bit like a low-key Giallo, which is probably why I enjoyed it as much as I did. While it may not offer up much by way of shocking twists or visceral moments of annihilation that genre fans might be looking for, The Rental succeeds as a character-driven suspense story that will leave you thinking twice about renting an Airbnb ever again.
The Rental opens with co-workers Mina (Sheila Vand) and Charlie (Dan Stevens) talking over a potential weekend house rental to share with their respective significant others: Nina’s boyfriend, Josh (Jeremy Allen White), who just so happens to be Charlie’s brother, and Charlie’s wife, Michelle (Allison Brie), who always seems to end up the odd person out in the group. The two couples set out for what’s supposed to be a celebratory weekend away after Mina and Charlie hit a major milestone for their business, but things don’t go exactly to plan once the proverbial poop hits the fan and secrets are revealed—between them and an outside party who just happens to be keeping tabs on the couples during their weekend getaway, too.
Once they arrive at their titular locale, they’re greeted by their host, Taylor (Toby Huss), who is an insufferable racist. Despite Mina’s unease about Taylor’s beliefs, the quartet decide to stick it out anyway, and settle in for a few days away from it all, with their rental house overlooking a craggy bluff butted up against the ocean. From there, the couples indulge in some recreational drugs, dinner, and discussions, but after Josh passes out and good girl Michelle trots herself off to bed, that leaves Charlie and Mina all alone—with a hot tub beckoning to them nearby—and as you may imagine, that’s when The Rental gets complicated. And everything only gets more tangled up in drama from there.
As Mina, Charlie, Michelle, and Josh start to hash out their issues, they quickly realize that they’re under surveillance in the house, which leaves them suspecting Taylor as the culprit. But things aren’t exactly what they seem in The Rental, and the film ventures into more horror-centric territory in the latter half of the film, resulting in an experience that feels a bit like The Collector meets I Know What You Did Last Summer.
While The Rental doesn’t venture into any unchartered territory, narratively speaking, there’s something to be said for Franco’s stripped-down no-nonsense directorial approach here, as he clearly demonstrates a strong handle on both the material and creating a visual style that evokes strong feelings of paranoia, isolation, and a palpable sense of dread, especially during the film’s third act when certain truths and motivations are revealed.
In terms of the performances in The Rental, everyone’s pretty great here, but it’s Brie who, as usual, steals the show. In the film, Michelle feels the most disconnected from the others, which already makes her a bit more interesting to watch, so when she decides to indulge in some ecstasy on her own, feeling left out after everyone else took some the night before, the results are pretty damn entertaining. Brie proves once again in The Rental that she can deftly maneuver between drama and comedy with the greatest of ease, and her performance is easily one of the film’s greatest strengths.
My only quibble is that The Rental gets a little muddled once the audience is let in on the killer’s ruse, but I thought the way things eventually wrapped up—especially during a post-credits scene that provides a bit more insight into the killer’s modus operandi—was pretty damn interesting, and I’ll admit that I’d be down to see more of their story in the future.
As a whole, for his first time at the helm as feature film director, Franco demonstrates that he’s got the chops to craft an engaging filmic experience, and shows great promise as a visual storyteller to boot. And while it may be a bit more heady than it is pure horror, I’d absolutely be game for The Rental 2, so here’s hoping that Franco gets the opportunity to revisit this world in the future.
Movie Score: 3.5/5