In Dave Franco’s directorial debut The Rental, a weekend getaway full of booze and drugs for two couples goes sour.
It’s a tale as old as horror itself, and one I’m always excited to see re-imagined. An Instagram-worthy house by the sea, an ensemble cast with complex ties to one another, and a dark shadow hunting them just past the treeline. Unfortunately, nothing in The Rental is compelling enough to be worth the price of admission. It’s hard to imagine a movie under 2 hours chugging, but somehow with a runtime of an hour and a half, The Rental flounders and fails to find its footing until the last forty minutes. With the bulk of the movie already gone, this is too much of a late bloomer for anyone looking for compelling horror viewing. And I have to say, I’m surprised. With no small amount of hype on its release, a cast of exciting names, and decent scores across other review platforms, I had hopes that Franco would deliver something watch-worthy. But if you’re expecting a film invasively creepy enough to convince you to stick to staycationing, I think you’ll be as disappointed as I was.
In the first few beats of the movie, we meet our cast of millennials—Charlie (Dan Stevens), a business owner who’s hit a recent stroke of success, Josh (Jeremy Allen White), his less successful brother with a history of assault charges, Michelle (Alison Brie), Charlie’s wife, and Mina (Sheila Vand), Josh’s girlfriend, who’s also Charlie’s solely professional business partner, and the only person of color in the film. We also meet Reggie (Chunk), a French bulldog. I tend to skirt spoilers, but I break that rule if something contains strong triggers. I could not be more relieved to tell you that (spoiler!) Reggie survives. He’s also the most interesting character in the movie, though he regrettably doesn’t get the screentime he deserves.
The couples arrive at their cliffside Airbnb and meet Taylor (Toby Huss), whose brother supposedly owns the property and lets him rent it out. One scene with Taylor in particular is a prime example of why this movie just doesn’t work: Mina confronts him with allegations of racism because she tried to book the same property but was denied while Charlie’s booking was accepted right after Taylor shoots back with a vaguely racial comment with no teeth, and everyone else in the group tells Mina to ignore him and just try to appreciate their vacation. Mina is, in this sense, and for the majority of the movie, meant to be an audience conduit—the character who actually suspects that something is going on while everyone else is distracted, the one whose head turns to look around at an audio cue, who takes a peek behind the chic floor-to-ceiling shiplap and sees the rot underneath. A movie like The Rental would actually benefit from taking a time-worn archetype like that and building on it, but instead these notions are briefly alluded to and then abandoned. Mina falls in line with the rest of the revelers, lets herself get lost in a haze of molly and jacuzzi bubbles, and the hints that she knows better than the rest of her friends are left behind while the narrative spirals into a half-baked drama.
This is my main complaint with The Rental—on top of the fact that it’s significantly more drama/thriller than horror, none of the characters are granted the emotional depth needed to make the audience invested in their interpersonal struggles. Mina is just Josh’s girlfriend, just the singular woman of color, just the one you think might make it out alive. Michelle is just Charlie’s wife and the one who wants to make things fun. Charlie is only her husband and only holds a vague anger toward his brother for not being more successful, while Josh is only Mina’s boyfriend and only has a tinge of resentment toward his brother’s success. They have nothing else past this, no apparent interests, no quirks, no blatant or subliminal goals. There is a significant lack of the characterization needed to pull off a slow-burn movie, especially when you intend to throw in a horror-lite twist at the end, but every line rings hollow when you don’t care about the characters themselves.
Unfortunately, Franco’s The Rental feels a lot like an Airbnb—pretty but kind of empty, and not really scary once you’re in it. It’s available to rent through YouTube, Google Play, and Amazon Prime, but I seriously recommend putting your time toward something else. Read a book (if you’re into Gothic horror, try one from Nicole Hill’s recent reads here) or maybe try out a new show (like ‘Lovecraft Country,’ which I love and the premiere of which E.E. Adams reviewed here).