The Rental

  • 08 Aug - 14 Aug, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

A Pacific Northwest weekend getaway goes from mildly awkward to bloodcurdlingly horrific in The Rental, Dave Franco's small but spiffy directorial debut. Freshening up the usual thrills-and-chills formula with a fine cast and some bracingly dysfunctional character dynamics, the film offers that masochistically pleasurable spectacle of people unraveling while a stalker lurks in the shadows watching – and in this case, recording – their every bad decision. The IFC release doesn't break any ground, but it's a confident, enjoyably nasty piece of work, unnerving enough to cure your FOMO about that canceled summer vacation.

The Rental was co-written by Franco and prolific indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg (Happy Christmas, Drinking Buddies), and the latter's mumblecore-ish mark is evident: The movie bears familiar home-invasion genre trappings – beautiful house, creepy landlord, missing pet – but it's heavy on talk, as well as classic Swanbergian themes of romantic angst, yuppie self-absorption, infidelity and guilt. The result is an occasionally awkward but mostly assured hybrid of horror and chamber dramedy.

The story of two couples (Dan Stevens and Alison Brie; Jeremy Allen White and Sheila Vand) reeling from the realisation that the house they're renting is rife with hidden cameras, the film picks over well-worn ideas about the toxic impact of technology on modern life. And its sprinkle of topicality is just that – a sprinkle. But The Rental succeeds in keeping you off-balance, lulling you into a false sense of knowing where it's going. And, at 88 minutes, the movie boasts a merciful clarity and compactness; it's refreshingly free of the "huh?" plot contortions and expository gobbledygook that often strangle the fun out of horror films.

Charlie (Stevens) and Mina (Vand) are business partners whose start-up has just hit some vague but significant milestone. The two have a clear attraction to one another, complicated by the fact that Mina is dating Charlie's brother Josh (White), a good-natured underachiever who drives Lyft for cash and recently completed a stint in jail. Oh, and Charlie has an adoring wife, Michelle (Brie). Looking to celebrate his and Mina's professional breakthrough, Charlie books a house on the Oregon coast for the two couples.

All in all, hardcore horror fans may be disappointed by the film's relative modesty, but the rest of us can look forward to Franco's next directorial move.