To celebrate a successful business deal, two couples decide to rent a secluded vacation home on the coast for the weekend. What begins as a pleasant weekend quickly spirals out of control. They have to deal with relationship issues, a creepy racist property manager, and someone might be watching them.
The Rental is the feature film debut for director Dave Franco, who is primarily known for his acting. Franco also co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Swanberg (V/H/S, Easy). This thriller manages to maneuver through many different plot points, while still being cohesive. As soon as the two couples arrive at the vacation rental, there is immediate tension as the property manager is outed for his racist behavior. Things only escalate from there after a drug-fueled night of partying leads to many bad choices. The true catalyst for the horrifying events that follow is the discovery of a hidden camera in the rental. In this modern age when most people are staying in vacation rentals rather than hotels and technology is so advanced, the fear that the owner or someone else could have camera installed to watch you is a very real fear. This discovery is what sparks the shift from a purely suspenseful film to a chilling slasher. Individually, these varying plot points are relatively simple, but when put together they create a more complicated story. It doesn’t necessarily always add up and I wish some aspects could be explored more in-depth, but it manages to generate more than a few white-knuckle moments. It almost ends up feeling like the film is split in half, the first part being a new-age thriller and the second half being a classic slasher.
Packed with indie favorites, The Rental has several recognizable faces and memorable performances. Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Argo) stars as Mina. Mina is the total package; she’s smart, beautiful, kind, and incredibly strong. Vand makes it clear Mina will always stand up for herself by confronting the racist property manager when others want to avoid conflict. Dan Stevens (The Guest, Apostle) plays Mina’s business partner, Charlie. Stevens does a great job of making Charlie seem like a great guy on the surface, but the more we learn about him, the more he seems a bit shady. Jeremy Allen White (Shameless, Bad Turn Worse) plays Josh, Mina’s boyfriend and Charlie’s brother. Josh has had a rough past, but White makes him a very endearing character. He clearly adores Mina and is trying his best to be a better man. Finally we have Alison Brie (GLOW, Horse Girl) as Charlie’s wife, Michelle. Brie plays Michelle in a way that makes her the most sympathetic character in the entire film. Together, all four actors play off of each other very well, creating different chemistries and building tensions in turn.
This film relies heavily on the set and other smaller details to visually enhance the plot. The location of The Rental is a truly stunning home with lots of big windows overlooking the seaside cliffs and the ocean beyond. Surrounded by the beach and ocean on one side, then nothing but green forest on the others, this home is definitely isolated. Even before the tiny hidden cameras are discovered, there is a sense of paranoia and being watched that comes from being in a secluded place with those huge windows open for all to see in. One detail that isn’t shown much in the film, but still leaves quite an impression, is a mask worn by the killer. It is an eerie, almost featureless human face so it takes a moment to realize you’re looking at a mask. All these visual aspects add to the general sense of paranoia and being watched.
The Rental is a manic, paranoid thriller turned slasher and a strong directorial debut for Franco. It does almost feel like watching two films in one, but that doesn’t take away from the overall success. Franco and Swanberg show a mastery of bringing together various threads to gradually build the suspense and keep the audience at the edge of their seat. The entire cast carries the film beautifully, but it’s Vand that delivers the most memorable performance. The stunning vacation rental offers a gorgeous setting that quickly turns ominous. The Rental is sure to make audiences wary of where they spend their next vacation.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10