Delivering solid thrills and an ugly portrait of disintegrating relationships, The Rental is a clever meld of drama and horror.
The directorial debut of actor Dave Franco, with a screenplay by Franco and indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg, The Rental is a taut 90-minute movie that will make you squirm.
A generally by-the-book affair, its lasting effect will be to make you paranoid about every Airbnb you ever step into in the future – or rethink the ones where you’ve stayed in the past. Was someone watching the whole time?
Shudder the thought.
Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his business partner Mina (Sheila Vand) have just closed a successful funding round for their venture so to celebrate and take a little chill time before months of hectic work start, they decide to rent a remote seaside house a few hours’ drive away.
With Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and Mina’s boyfriend Josh (Jeremy Allen Taylor), who also happens to be Charlie’s brother, the four of them drive up but even before they arrive there are red flags.
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Mina, who is of Middle Eastern heritage, tried to book the property but was rejected while Charlie’s booking was accepted an hour later. The property caretaker Taylor (Toby Huss) is a little gruff and doesn’t make the best impression, especially on Mina who already has her defences up.
As the weekend unfolds, in which we learn about the dynamics within and across the two couples, and their pasts, a larger cloud of unease settles over everyone and everything. Especially when it becomes clear that someone is watching them.
While The Rental spends the first half of the film without a drop of blood spilt, it’s clear from the repressive atmosphere – even when everyone is supposed to be having fun, dropping drugs and dancing the night away – that this is horror movie territory.
The movie always positions at least one person away from the rest of the group, even in small ways, so the audience is very aware that despite the outward camaraderie, this is a group that could easily fracture.
It’s an uncomfortable reminder that we don’t ever know our closest – or even ourselves – as well as we think we do.
Most of the horrors in The Rental are less literal and more rooted in the capacity of seemingly normal people to make choices that reveal a darkness. Perhaps that darkness slips out in more mundane examples in normal life, but when confronted, that malevolence rears its head in terrible ways.
By the time The Rental shifts into full horror gear, the real damage among the four has been done. What they’re now faced with is the manifestation of their secrets and choices.
Franco’s first directorial feature is an effective movie that doesn’t try to be too clever or twisty. The strength of it lies in making the suspense of the dismantling relationships as compelling as any potential bogeyman hiding in the dark.
Something for thought next time you’re in a holiday rental.
The Rental is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, January 22
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