Dave Franco has been quietly biding his time, waiting for the right project to arrive, so he could finally step off of the acting stage and into the director’s chair. Trading the spotlight for the warm glow of the monitor, Franco chose the right project and, certainly, the right cast to deliver a thought-provoking thriller that delves into deeper themes like trust and race under the guise of a slasher film in the age of surveillance.
Speaking with Franco about his first feature behind the camera, it’s immediately apparent that he has been meticulously preparing for this moment for over a decade. I don’t want to throw out wild theories, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Dave Franco actually seduced his wife, famed actress Alison Brie, just so he could cast her in The Rental. We started talking about their first time acting together in the Funny Or Die short film, Dream Girl, how Drive-ins will see a slightly different version of the film, and wrapped things up by discussing some of the different endings he explored before landing on the truly disturbing final frames… Don’t worry, Franco was very sure not to give anything away. It also may surprise you to find out that he’s a huge horror fan.
Synopsis: Two couples on an oceanside getaway grow suspicious that the host of their seemingly perfect rental house may be spying on them. Before long, what should have been a celebratory weekend trip turns into something far more sinister, as well-kept secrets are exposed and the four old friends come to see each other in a whole new light. Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, Jeremy Allen White, and Sheila Vand star in this unnerving and sophisticated debut thriller from Dave Franco (Neighbors, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Disaster Artist).
Dread Central: I was just watching your Dream Girl short from a few years back. I hadn’t heard the term “blumkin” in a while. I was thinking maybe that’s what would have happened if the couples in The Rental actually did play board games one night instead of getting wasted.
Dave Franco: (laughs) Yeah, I guess that was Alison and my first collaboration and I give her a lot of credit for giving herself over to that general concept.
DC: So that’s really where you got the directing bug, right? From working with Funny Or Die?
DF: Yeah, I’ve been directing for awhile. I started about a decade ago directing these short films and skits for Funny Or Die dot com. On those projects, I was basically wearing every hat possible. I was the writer, actor, director, editor and it became somewhat of a film school for me. I wanted to take the leap to directing a feature film for awhile but, candidly, I was a little nervous. Once I wrote this script, I realized that I knew these characters and this storyline more intimately than anyone else and my nerves went away. I just started to get excited because I had such a strong vision for what I wanted to do.
And then when I was actually on set, I realized I knew a lot more than I thought I did because of the fact that I’ve been on so many sets as an actor. It just made me think about how a lot of first time directors, when they are stepping on set that first day, it’s their first time on any set ever. They’re learning about the dynamics between the crew and generally how things work, and so I felt like I was able to skip some of those steps.
DC: That must be one of the reasons why I’m sure it feels a lot different doing press for a film that you were completely behind creating. It’s definitely something to be proud of.
DF: Thanks man. I’ve always been the kind of actor where I’ve just been curious about every step of the process and, so, I can’t help myself. I’m always talking to the DP and the writer and the production designer and just picking everyone’s brain knowing that I wanted to direct my own film. It has been really nice just having a say in every part of the process and being able to surround myself with all of my own people who I vetted myself. Everyone on set ended up being, not only very talented, but just nice people that were going to work their asses off.
DC: I was sorry to miss seeing the film at the drive-in premiere at Vineland. Are you still looking to release a slightly brighter version of the movie specifically for drive-ins? That’s a good idea.
DF: (Laughs) So we actually have made a slightly brighter version of the movie for future drive-in showings which makes me very happy because I am such a perfectionist. I have poured all of myself into this film over the last two years and I just want everyone to see it the way we intended it. I owe IFC a lot for allowing me to be a psycho perfectionist and create a specific version of the film just for drive-ins.
DC: You mentioned the actors a little bit and there’s such a great mix of talent. The dramatic tension between the two couples is already interesting enough to carry an entire film. Did this story evolve into a horror movie and why choose to do a horror film first?
DF: I like everything you’re saying. It was always intended to be a grounded horror film. That being said, the reason I wanted to write the script with Joe Swanberg is because his main strength lies in character and relationships. So, our intention from the beginning was to create a tense relationship drama where the interpersonal issues between the characters were just as thrilling as the fact that there’s a killer stalking them. At its core, the movie really is about these characters and their relationships and then we sprinkled the horror elements on top to help accentuate the problems that they’re going through.
In regards to why I wanted my directorial debut to be a horror, I think most people know me from the comedies that I’ve acted in, but as a viewer, there’s nothing I enjoy more than a smart genre film. I think about this young group of young genre filmmakers like Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, David Robert Mitchell, Amy Seimetz, Sean Durkin…these are all filmmakers who make projects that are more nuanced and atmospheric. They really take their time to creep up on you and then ultimately linger long after the movie’s ended. On the flip side, there’s a bunch of genre films that rely too heavily on jump scares and they have these one-dimensional characters that we’ve seen a million times. Ultimately, these movies feel disposable, you forget them the moment they end.
DC: You have some serious horror cred anyway with Sheila Vand and Dan Stevens in the film. You’re saying you want to move away from jump scares, I thought it’s amazing how quickly your opinion of someone you love can change. That’s really scary and a good theme in the movie. The real horror of the movie is really being cheated on not being spied on.
DF: Yeah, the theme of trust is very apparent throughout. It’s the trust of strangers and also the trust of people that know you the best. It’s all very scary and, like you said, being insecure in your own relationship is just as scary as being in danger of being physically harmed.
DC: What does the killer represent to you? Did you ever have different versions of the ending?
DF: It’s difficult to talk about this element of the film without giving anything away. What I will say is that there were other versions of the script where we had our villain monologuing about why they were doing what they were doing. It just felt very preachy and cheesy and we immediately knew that it didn’t work. So we thought there was a lot more strength in keeping everything more simple and slightly ambiguous. It also felt more in line with the tone of the rest of the movie.
The Rental is in select Drive-Ins, Theaters and On Demand July 24.
Theaters / Drive-Ins can be found here: https://www.therental.movie/tickets/
Ways to Watch at home can be found here: https://www.therental.movie/watch-at-home/