Directed by Dave Franco
Written by Dave Franco and Joe Swanberg
Starring Dan Stevens, Sheila Vand, Alison Brie, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss
We’ve all felt like we were being watched at one time or another, as if some invasive presence was lingering over us waiting for our most vulnerable moments to reveal themselves. You’ve probably never had that feeling, however, when you first cross the threshold of a weekend rental, throw your bags down and start exploring your new semi-permanent digs. In fact, we usually invite a few of our least annoying friends for a quick getaway in order to have a respite from those watchful eyes. In Dave Franco’s new film The Rental, two couples just can’t shake the feeling that something’s a little off as their romantic weekender slowly spirals out of control.
From the first scene, there’s already some sexual tension between Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Shelia Vand), two business partners in need of a little stress relief before starting a big project. Before Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) enters in as Mina’s actual boyfriend, the two of them already seem like a couple as they scroll through various beach houses to stay in for a couple days. Once Charlie’s long-time love interest Michelle (Alison Brie) joins up so the four of them can all vacay together, it’s pretty clear that things have a good chance of going crooked. Once they arrive at their idyllic rental off the Oregon coast, the tension eases until their creepy host Taylor (Toby Huss) succeeds on unsettling the group just as they are settling in. Throughout the weekend, relationships are tested as everyone learns that you shouldn’t put your trust in strangers or even in the people you love.
Franco made the right choice in writing partner Joe Swanberg (Nights and Weekends, Drinking Buddies) who cut his teeth with a myriad of independent films that feature relationships that feel authentic. The partner dynamics are completely believable, with Josh feeling inadequate and out of his depth, the will-they-or-won’t-they flirtation of Charlie and Mina, and the endearing naiveté of Michelle all working together to drive the story forward. Stevens, Vand, White and Brie take the Franco/Swanberg script and run with it, all offering exquisite performances with Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home At Night) edging ahead as a true breakout. Jeremy Allen White (Shameless) is completely naked emotionally in almost every scene and his acting in this will make you wonder why he’s not a bigger star. The little heartbreaks and big indiscretions in The Rental already have enough emotional baggage to carry a straight drama, but when the horror of their situation begins to emerge, Alison Brie (The Disaster Artist, Sleeping With Other People) drives home the shattered realization of someone who knows things will never be the same again.
What’s scarier, being stalked and hunted by a faceless killer or finding out someone you love isn’t who you thought they were? Relationships can unravel even faster when the right pressure is applied, and the outside danger accents the relationship drama instead of casting it aside in favor of piano stabs and jump scares. Beneath the paranoia of surveillance and the slasher stereotypes floating on the surface, issues of sibling rivalry and race add more layers to a storyline that’s already dealing with mistrust and betrayal. In an early scene between Mina and their shifty host, she confronts him for denying her reservation request in favor of Charlie’s, a seemingly clear sign of preferential treatment based on race. Casting Vand and adding that small scene immediately make The Rental more complex, adding to the distance between the characters. Don’t ruin the weekend, right? Why even bring that up? Let’s pretend everything is OK. That kind of quick denial is indicative of some of the other things they’re all willing to hide for the sake of keeping up appearances. It takes an outside threat to force them to look at who they really are.
As you can tell by our interview with Dave Franco, it’s not easy to talk about the ending of The Rental without spoiling it. If you’re more of an active, investigative viewer, you may want a little more mystery tied into the big reveal. But if you prefer something more open-ended, the final shots sprinkled in to the credit sequence should convince you that there’s still more to this story. No matter what you feel after the final act, you’ll definitely be even more careful about renting an AirBnB in the near future.
The Rental is in Select Drive-Ins, Theaters and On Demand on July 24.
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.