I am going to start this with a bold statement: I do not miss going to the theater to see new releases. Last night, we rented The Rental, ordered pizza, and drank a bottle of red while enjoying some creepy lighting in the comfort of our own living room. There were no rude people on their phones, there were no obnoxious people narrating the entire film, and I didn’t have to wear pants. Don’t get me wrong, there are some films that are nice to see on the big screen. But I think there is a certain element of comfort we have been missing out on this whole time.
The Rental tells the story of four friends who rent a beach house for the weekend. As can be expected, this isn’t just a normal weekend away. It begins as a relationship drama that quickly devolves into a slasher film. Let me just begin by saying that the performances were really good. Allison Brie and Dan Stevens steal the show in my opinion but the cast is nicely rounded out by Jeremy Allen White and Sheila Vand. Dave Franco’s direction is also worth noting. He clearly understands the horror genre and competently demonstrates that by the amount of anticipation and anxiety he is able to build. I am really excited to see where his directing career takes him.
I think the biggest problem this film ran into was its script. Franco and Joe Swanberg were able to create relationship dynamics and dialogue that were believable for this group of friends. However, there are a few too many red herrings planted throughout the first half of the film that have no pay off or resolution. There are many times during the first and second act where you think you have it figured out. And then the third act begins and you realize you were completely wrong. Not that this is a bad thing. It is good to not know what is coming in a horror film. But, the third act deviates a little too far from what the rest of the film set up. I understand that the use of red herrings is necessary in the horror genre. It just seemed like an overused tactic in this case.
If you are the type of person that needs answers at the end of a film, this one may not be for you. You really are left with a lot to interpret or question. Personally though, I really enjoyed it. It is one of those stories that you can’t take too seriously. Accept it for what it is and enjoy the ride. It definitely relies on horror tropes and pulls from important works from the genre that came before it. It is far from perfect. Instead, my argument is that it is enjoyable. The perfect way to spend a hot July night during a global pandemic.
I went into The Rental knowing only that it was directed and co-written by Dave Franco and that it was a horror movie. Based on the title, I assumed some gory shit goes down at a rental property, and I wasn’t wrong. However, the majority of the film unfolds as more of a psychological thriller that focuses on the relationship dynamics between two couples. The conflicts within that group are exacerbated by the antics of the creepy people they rent a vacation home from.
There are certainly a few chilling scenes in The Rental and the performances aren’t bad, but the writers clearly didn’t know where to go with the story after a certain point, so they tack on a violent 10-15 minute finale that just doesn’t feel earned. I’m going to mention a few specific things about the plot and the characters that brought this movie down, so if you don’t want spoilers, stop reading after this paragraph and allow me to leave you with the conclusion that this film is just very forgettable, thin and largely unbelievable.
YOUR LAST WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
One thing that bothered me throughout much of the story is that, early on, all four of the individuals that travel to this rental house are made aware that Taylor (Toby Huss) assists his brother in renting out this house. Taylor mentions his brother in front of these four people multiple times. However, when two of the characters discover that cameras have been placed in showers throughout the house, it eventually leads to a confrontation and Taylor ends up dead. After this point, the story turns into these four people trying to cover up the their involvement with Taylor’s death and searching for the main source that the cameras are all feeding into so they can destroy it.
This entire time, none of the characters even mentions anything about Taylor’s brother or the possibility that he could be involved. I sat there thinking for the characters, who despite being in a state of panic probably should have asked at least one of the following questions:. What if Taylor’s brother is involved? What if he has already seen the footage? What if he has backup systems to store the footage in? What if Taylor didn’t know anything about the cameras and we killed an innocent man? What if Taylor’s brother is on his way over here? It is just too much of a stretch, especially considering how much these characters hang on every word Taylor says when they suspect he is racist, that they completely forgot every time he mentioned his brother. This is a fairly short film at only 88 minutes long, and had it been a little longer in order to have the characters ask some or all of the aforementioned questions, I might have bought where the plot ended. As is, the story takes a leap that feels forced.
I also found every choice these characters make to be predictable. Unlike Alex, I usually try not to predict where a film is going and instead give it a chance to surprise me. That was impossible with The Rental. I could see every supposed twist this story was going to provide well before it happened. Of course one person in each of these couples has sex with someone from the other couple. Of course one of the homeowners is recording the guests’ activities (it is alluded to early on with a random “peeping tom” comment from Taylor). Of course the infidelity within the group will be revealed by the killer. The Rental is full of the kind of unsubtle foreshadowing so expertly lampooned in The Cabin in the Woods. The latter is a much better way to spend a hot July evening.