Despite the proverbial advice to be wary of strangers, the ‘sharing economy’ has opened up a host of new and novel experiences. Where we once felt strange about being vulnerable in that way, it isn’t uncommon anymore to be transported by a stranger to stay at a stranger’s house. What’s even more novel is that this has all become so commonplace that we tend to trust these experiences, these vulnerabilities, in ways that would have felt bizarre in earlier days. But how do you know you’re safe? And are you really? In The Rental, actor-turned-director Dave Franco answers this question with a resounding ‘no!’
Dave Franco’s directorial debut sees four friends check into an Airbnb for a little getaway and get way more than they bargained for. Charlie (Dan Stevens) is a wealthy tech entrepreneur who books a getaway with his wife Michelle (a great but under-utilized Alison Brie), brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), and Mina (Sheila Vand), Josh’s girlfriend and Charlie’s business partner. The Airbnb experience starts out on an off-putting note when Mina is initially rejected for the Airbnb that Charlie easily books, signalling racist intent on the manager’s part. That’s only the first sign they’re about to have a sub-par experience (wait until they find some suspiciously-placed cameras…).
The film has a number of elements going for it that are well worth noting. The cast, small though it is, is filled with extremely talented players. Under Franco’s direction (and with a script co-written by Joe Swanberg) they all turn in excellent performances and have real and believable chemistry together. Many of the scenes have a really organic feel to them, heightening the film’s believability, and the cinematography manages to keep the film’s world from feeling stale and small despite being centered around a small, single location. Finally, the concept of the villain—which I won’t spoil here—is a sound and very modern idea with a lot of potential.
The film does have a few relevant issues that muddy the impact of the solid performances. The film’s extensive focus on the characters and their drama in the first two acts ends up a double-edged sword. It does add some weight to the character’s fate(s) at the film’s conclusion, but simultaneously the film dove so deeply into the casual issues of the characters that there was little tension or dread for most of the film—it felt, at parts, like a movie of a completely different genre.
For a thriller (and an efficient 88-minute one at that), the film’s entire first half is a slow exercise in audience patience, and relatively little happens after that marker before an all-too-quick third act moves forward. While the climax is swift and intense, it comes in suddenly and too little, too late, with little explanation or development. Together these factors negate a lot of potential suspense in a film with an otherwise excellent concept, and leave it feeling more like a prequel than a fleshed out entry in the horror canon.
Franco’s knack for strong performances and solid thriller concepts speaks well to his potential as a director to watch, and the key antagonist of this film is worthy of future films. That said, The Rental on its own merits is a few thrills short of a thriller.
‘The Rental’ is now available on VOD.