Review: Dave Franco's 'The Rental' an effectively scary indie thriller
Courtesy of IFC
Dave Franco has made an exceptional career for himself as an actor but has often been overlooked in favor of his older brother James. Who knew, waiting in the wings, was his first feature, a taunt, lean, mean and effective 88 minute thriller called “The Rental.” A small horror flick by any means (the principal cast is made up of four people) and one that borrows many Hitchcockcian elements to its advantage, but there’s still enough panache here to solidify Franco as a director to watch.
The premise is simple enough: a man and a woman are looking for a quaint weekend getaway to celebrate a big success at work. You’d think, at the start, these two are a couple but Franco pulls the first misdirect. Mina (Sheila Vand) and Charlie (Dan Stevens) are actually friends and co-workers, which we discover when Charlie's brother and Mina’s boyfriend Josh (Jeremy Allen White) walks in and plants a big smooch on her. Talk about a bait and switch. It’s almost like Franco is already putting the pressure on his audience to not believe everything he shows us, to make us question each decision and not let our guard down.
The group – together with Charlie’s wife Michelle (Allison Brie – Franco’s actual wife) - plan this escape to a gorgeous secluded rental home for a weekend of relaxation and partying. Things start to get dicey once secrets begin to unravel and the uncertain notion they may or may not be alone in the house comes to fruition.
Obviously, you hear a description like that and question how “The Rental” manages to feel authentic, but Franco – who co-wrote the script with Joe Swanberg – amp up the tension and suspense for all its worth, producing solid results that utilizes this small quartet of actors to the best of their abilities.
Speaking of performances, most of the work done here is flawlessly executed and the dynamic among the group is a major boost for some of “The Rentals” unoriginal qualities. Vand stands at the forefront as the moral center (and one who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and state the obvious), but at a brisk 88 minutes, it’s impressive how Franco and Swanberg manage to deepen these characters' relationships and get us invested in the outcome. Rather than being a mindless slasher flick (which, in the final twenty minutes is what this film essentially becomes) at least we’ve spent ample time with the folks on the chopping block. Most of “The Rental” relies on the situation itself and how the audience sees themselves in this scenario and – like “The Beach House” – could make you rethink booking that summer villa through Airbnb.
Considering this is a directorial debut, Franco shows real poise and confidence as a filmmaker, especially as audiences might find themselves angry over the ambiguity at the film's conclusion. That shows, to me, that Franco can make interesting decisions as a director. It wouldn’t have been hard to turn “The Rental” into a mainstream Blumhouse thriller made for mass consumption, but instead we’re left to piece together our own interpretation of how everything plays out.
“The Rental” doesn’t sell itself out for gore and action either, it takes time to lay a foundation for what is an intense and rewarding third act. The film leans heavily into other notable and prominent flicks (a splash of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” here, another hint of “When A Stranger Calls” there) but Franco manages to turn this indie gem into a late summer hit.
THE RENTAL will be available digitally and open at drive-ins on July 24th