Friday 24 July 2020

The Rental (Movie Review)

Have you ever felt like you're being watched? A feeling of unease and heaviness that manifests sometimes, when you are out in an open space or in the privacy of your own home. Perhaps there is someone staring at you from the window of a neighboring house, or a creature lurking somewhere in the shadows. Well, that primal fear is what Dave Franco tries to explore in his directorial debut, The Rental.

The movie tells the story of two couples that rent an idyllic vacation home for a weekend getaway. Located in the middle of nowhere (aren't they always?), the house appears to be just what the close-knit friends need, an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. So the group leaves in search of that escape, and get there to find the house is everything the Airbnb listing claimed it to be.

The one thing that was carefully left off the listing though was any mention of its creepy caretaker. Aside from his openly racist treatment of one of the group's members, Mina Mohammadi (Sheila Vand), he does very little to mask his disdain for the group as a whole. But they came there to have a good time, so of course they weren't going to let his attitude ruin their weekend plans.

Except everything isn't all peachy among the members of the group itself. First there is Josh (Jeremy Allen White), Mina's boyfriend who is fearful of having her walk out on him someday. Then we have Charlie (Dan Stevens), his older brother and Mina's business partner, whose closeness to Mina is a bit of a sore spot for his wife, Michelle (Alison Brie). It is clear that there are many unspoken truths between the friends, and it is only a matter of time before they start to unravel.

As far as directorial debuts go, The Rental is a solid effort from Dave Franco, a man that clearly has a lot of love for horror movies of old. As such, his film serves as a sort of homage to that golden era of slasher films, with its similarities to movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. If only it had been more clear with its intentions from the onset, perhaps its execution would have been more focused.

The Rental is far from perfect. It has a very slow buildup, and some tonal shifts that make it hard to label it a proper horror film. It is closer to a relationship drama, with its focus on the slowly building tensions between its four protagonists. But when the tensions eventually boil over, it is not in the way we'd been led to believe that they would. It comes in the form of our first glimpse at the slasher film Dave and crew had set out to make from the beginning.

Unfortunately, that bait and switch doesn't happen until well into the third act of the movie. And unlike a typical Quentin Tarantino movie that follows the same formula, the movie doesn't have nearly enough foreshadowing to make its eventual shift feel like any kind of a payoff. Its writing also doesn't quite hit those same lofty heights that keeps Tarantino fans hanging on every word and spoken line of dialogue.

Negatives aside, The Rental still marks a promising debut from a director that is still clearly honing his craft. So it is only a matter of time before he follows his brother's footsteps and churns out his own masterpiece, ala The Disaster Artist. And I am more than willing to see how long it takes for him to get there. 

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