★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
If, thanks to horror movies, you already have enough reasons not to go in the water, the woods, or your own home, The Rental is the latest shocker to make the case for avoiding AirBnbs, too. Realistic characters and dialogue and solid performances highlight this offering.
Directed by Dave Franco
The latest in a series of “Don’t go in the short-term rental house!” horror and thriller outings, The Rental blends home invasion and stalk-and-slash elements with relationship drama to good effect. Not much new is on tap, but the performances from the talented cast make this film one worth seeking out.
Start-up business partners Mina (Sheila Vand of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and The Wave) and Charlie (Dan Stevens of The Guest) rent a luxurious coastal AirBnB house so that they and their significant others can unwind. Josh (Jeremy Allen White) is Charlie’s younger, prone-to-anger and former inmate brother and Mina’s insecure boyfriend, and Michelle (Alison Brie of Community and GLOW) is Charlie’s girlfriend. Seeds of tension are planted from the get-go as Mina and Charlie are initially presented as a possible couple, only to have Josh enter a scene and make things uncomfortable. It’s a classic case of Chekhov’s sexual tension between people in potentially unhealthy relationships.
Things don’t get less messy when the group arrives at the home and meets the house’s host Taylor (Toby Huss of the 2018 version of Halloween, but he’ll always be The Wiz from Seinfeld to me), who comes off as a possible racist but definite jerk. Tensions mount because of Taylor’s close proximity to the titular house, and as skeletons in the closet among the two couples begin to slowly make their way into the light.
Actor Dave Franco (of Warm Bodies and the 2011 version of Fright Night, and Brie’s husband) makes his directorial debut with The Rental, cowriting the screenplay with Joe Swanberg (who acted in The Sacrament and You’re Next). The pair has crafted a screenplay that is fraught with different kinds of tension, from familial to relationship-oriented to thriller and horror sequences. The dialogue is believable, and the characters feel realistic, with Josh being burdened with the tropes of being the most obvious character because of his hot-headedness and being quick to violence. Franco proves himself adept at handling all of the film’s different elements, aided by terrific performances from the five leads.
Though seasoned genre-fare cinephiles will easily guess at some of the plot points, The Rental serves up a few surprises. Its antagonist reveal will undoubtedly leave some viewers scratching their heads, as will some character decisions, but overall there is enough modern-day cabin-in-the-woods anxiety and paranoia to recommend it, though as I mentioned earlier, the fine performances are reason enough to give this film a watch.
The Rental, from IFC Films, premieres at select drive-ins, theaters and On Demand on July 24.