The Rental

IFC FILMS (2020)

 

Director: Dave Franco

 

Starring: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Tony Huss, Chunk

Just when I thought we were getting that documentary about Blockbuster Video...

 

In fact, The Rental is Dave Franco’s directorial debut. A horror/thriller that Franco says is influenced by classics of the genre (think: The Shining) as well as contemporary chillers such as Hereditary, The Rental clocks in at a cool eighty-eight minutes and sees two couples retreating to an idyllic, secluded coastal rental house. However, they have suspicions that the host may be spying on them though what lurks in the fog and the woodland may be far more menacing – as could their own actions and behaviours.

Part-mystery, part-(rental) home invasion, The Rental certainly takes its time to get going before we start to realise exactly what’s going on. That said, the first two-thirds of the movie are certainly the strongest. We see the couples strange interactions with each other, we can suspect all is not well between members of the group and another altogether bigger problem arises...in their bathrooms. Franco wants us to bond with his characters but also to decide who’s worth trusting and believing in - unfortunately, a major flaw to this is only one is entirely likeable which makes certain events in the movie devoid of any intended feeling or emotion. One character exists simply as a red herring leading to a third act which, as it unfolds, leads to an unsatisfying ending as what eventually occurs almost feels irrelevant such is the lack of build up. The events of the finale literally deviate almost entirely from the rest of the movie that preceded it. It was a disappointing end to a promising opening sixty-minutes. The cast are fine within their roles, Alison Brie’s Michelle elevates what could have potentially been a bland role and Dan Stevens is adept as Charlie (Michelle’s partner). Sheila Vand’s Mina and Jeremy Allen White’s Josh felt under-cooked, driven only by one or two character traits and motivations. It’s a solid overall performance but no-one really took the lead and stood out (save for Reggie the dog played heroically by Chunk).

 

The initial slower pace lent nicely to some classic atmosphere building and I felt the mystery was engaging – some events seemed more telegraphed then others but overall Franco created a largely compelling foundation to build towards something bigger. The beautiful house set upon jagged coastal cliffs, the ocean bellowing in the distance and the surrounding woodland provided a wonderful backdrop to proceedings – almost perfect for a whodunit type of movie – but when we got to that tonal shift in the third act, the location just wasn’t fully utilised to its potential. The accompanying score was forgettable, though it was nice to hear Mayer Hawthorne’s Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out busted out at one point.

 

In his debut effort, Dave Franco delivers an admirable thriller that stumbles along the way and ultimately falls away in the third act. The ingredients were there for a taut, gripping ride and it seemed we were on the right track, however, The Rental is still a solid effort despite its flaws, just don’t expect it to linger long in the memory.

July 20th 2020

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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