The Movie Waffler First Look Review - THE RENTAL | The Movie Waffler

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First Look Review - THE RENTAL

the rental review
A dream getaway becomes a nightmare for four friends.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Dave Franco

Starring: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Jeremy Allen White, Sheila Vand, Toby Huss, Anthony Molinari

the rental poster


Actor Dave Franco follows the multi-hyphenate path trodden with arguable degrees of success by his brother James with The Rental, his feature directorial debut. It's an impressive first outing behind the camera, and the latest example of a growing trend of actors turning to the horror genre for their directorial debuts.

Not so much a cabin in the woods thriller as an AirBnB by the sea shocker, The Rental presents us with a quartet of protagonists. Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand) are business partners in some ambiguous hipster start-up, and they've been fighting off their mutual attraction. Mina suggests that they take a weekend break with their other halves - Charlie's girlfriend Michelle (Alison Brie) and his loose cannon brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), who is currently dating Mina - and so the four set off for a two night stay in an idyllic rental on the coast.


the rental review


Once there, tensions rise immediately as Mina questions why the property's booker, Taylor (Toby Huss), turned down her request for a booking, only to accept Charlie's an hour later. Taylor ambiguously bats away her accusation of Islamophobia and leaves the quartet to their own devices. To relax everyone, Michelle breaks out some ecstasy tabs, but bows out and hits the hay early. While Charlie and Mina are energised, Josh falls asleep on the couch. Bad move on his part, as soon his girlfriend and brother are acting upon their previously suppressed desires in Mina's shower.

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The following morning, Michelle and Josh set off on a hike, leaving the hungover Charlie and Mina behind. The latter pair agree that their actions of the previous night were a mistake, and that they'll never allow themselves to behave in such a manner again. But then Mina notices something in her shower head - a tiny camera lens. Has someone, possibly Taylor, recorded their coupling? Yep, they're in quite the pickle, as they can't contact the police without having their brief affair exposed. They agree to keep quiet and attempt to get through the night, but when Taylor comes over at Michelle's request to fix the hot tub, things take a decidedly dark turn.


the rental review


Recently it seems like American indie cinema has been on a quest to destroy the AirBnB industry. The Rental joins other 2020 films like The Beach House and This Teacher, in which trouble befalls those who head off for some R&R in what should be a blissful and peaceful setting. All three films have found ways to revitalise what is essentially a relocated reworking of the cabin in the woods sub-genre. In the case of The Rental, it's Franco and co-writer Joe Swanberg's commitment to character that elevates their film above its straight to VOD competitors. They patiently allow us to familiarise ourselves with the particular relationship dynamics that exist between their four central protagonists, so by the time we enter thriller territory we feel like we really have a handle on who these four people are. If the genre element hadn't been introduced, The Rental would still function as a satisfying character drama about two brittle relationships crumbling over a weekend.

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But Franco's film does indeed turn into a thriller, and in the second half he proves himself as adept at staging stalk and slash sequences as he is in building realistic characters. The Rental is split roughly into three distinct and disparate acts. The first is the sort of millennial relationship drama that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the prior work of mumblecore maven Swanberg. The second is a paranoid thriller, as Charlie, Mina and the audience attempt to figure out just what the hell they've gotten themselves into and whom they're being manipulated by. Finally we end in slasher movie territory as the true nature of the previously ambiguous threat is made explicit.


the rental review


If I have a complaint, it's that after such a patient escalation of tension, the climax feels a little rushed. It's also a tad frustrating how Franco chooses to keep us waiting until a closing credits montage to fill in the specifics of what we've just watched, rather than incorporating such a reveal into the climactic action in more organic fashion. I'm also not sure the villain's plot holds up to any sort of scrutiny, as they appear to place themselves in a position that would easily allow any remotely diligent investigator to tie them into their crimes.

But that's a relatively minor niggle, and for the most part Franco has pulled off a competent piece of genre filmmaking for his debut. The performances, particularly of Huss as the is-he-or-isn't-he-the-bad-guy, are what really make The Rental worth taking time out of your own busy schedule for. On the strength of this, I look forward to seeing how Franco's behind-the-camera career progresses.

The Rental is on US Digital/VOD from July 24th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




2020 movie reviews