James Jay Edwards reviews The Rental, the directorial debut of Dave Franco, the younger brother of James Franco. (IFC Films)
Although he’s acted in such films as The Disaster Artist and Nerve, Dave Franco is best known as the little brother of Oscar nominee James Franco. But that may change with his debut feature as a writer and director, The Rental.
The Rental is about a pair of business partners named Charlie (The Guest’s Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) who decide to celebrate a recent success with a little weekend getaway. They grab Charlie’s wife, Michelle (Alison Brie from Community and GLOW), and Mina’s boyfriend, Josh (Jeremy Allen White from Shameless), who also happens to be Charlie’s brother, and off everyone goes to a luxurious vacation rental located in a remote seaside area.
(The Rental, theatrical release poster, IFC Films)
And that’s really all you should know about The Rental going in. The movie is best experienced with as little prior knowledge as possible. Just know that the gang finds themselves, of course, being stalked by a crazed madman. But, as the night goes on and the stalking gets more intense, things happen, and other revelations come to light that make everyone question who their real friends are.
Dave Franco was inspired to write The Rental by the entire phenomenon of Airbnb. The concept of a property owner renting out their space short term is a weird one, and the bond of trust that must be formed on both sides of the transaction is mindboggling … and terrifying. Co-writer Joe Swanberg is one of the pioneers of the improvisational mumblecore film movement, but also has a firm grip on the horror genre with his work in fright flicks like You’re Next and The Sacrament. So, Franco could not have picked a better partner to tap into those fears and help him write his Airbnb slasher.
(The Rental, IFC Films)
There are so many great layers to Franco’s film. It’s sort of a home invasion flick, but the themes of betrayal, voyeurism, discrimination, and mistrust are sprinkled everywhere throughout, so it’s really hard to know who the actual antagonist is at any given time. Even the house itself can be viewed as the villain from a certain standpoint. The usual horror tropes are all there—the isolated cabin, the creepy caretaker, the drug-induced paranoia—but Franco manages to cleverly weave them into the story without leaning too heavily on them. The Rental does not feel like an homage or a parody, no matter how many clichés Franco tosses into it.
At least, not until the ending. Without spoiling anything, the conclusion of The Rental is where things kind of fall apart. It’s a cop-out, feeling more like what Franco and Swanberg thought their audience would want to see, rather than what they wanted to write. Maybe the pair wrote themselves into a corner and had no other way to wrap things up. While it doesn’t in any way destroy the effective mood of the movie, the ending does leave the audience a bit less than satisfied. Franco finally lets the tropes dictate his filmmaking instead of the other way around like he had been doing for the rest of the movie.
(The Rental, IFC Films)
Maybe it’s so that quarantined people can live vicariously through the characters, but between The Beach House and Lake of Death, this summer has been packed with vacation movies. Despite its hack ending, The Rental is the best of the bunch. It’s time for Dave Franco to finally step out from underneath his big brother’s shadow.