The Rental, Dave Franco’s directorial debut, offers some entertaining horror value in certain respects, but suffers from a lack of meaningful and interesting characters to round out the horror scenario.
It’s cast is pretty great: Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Allison Brie) are married and seemingly happy, while Charlie’s under achieving brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) is worried about not being enough for his girlfriend Mina (Shelia Vand), Charlie’s co-worker. To celebrate a win at work, the two couples book an Airbnb on the coast for a weekend. Despite encountering Taylor, the racist Airbnb host, the four of them take the vacation time to relax, do drugs, and stargaze.
Franco delivers incredible tension in the buildup. Even if the characters themselves are not that likable, we spend enough time with them to really understand the dynamics within the group. However, they do fall into typical horror traps that makes it difficult to root for them. Brie’s Michelle is the only sensible one, but alas, no one listens to her.
It feels like there was a chance to expand on the racists-are-monsters theme, but Mina’s objections to the host are mostly ignored by the rest of the group, and eventually, Mina let’s Taylor’s vaguely racist comments toward her go as well. Perhaps, if the rest of the group, who are all white, didn’t wave away Taylor’s comments and stood up for their friend, the events that followed could have been avoided. But this is mostly conjecture, since the film doesn’t quite manage to capture the necessity for this bit or add anything to the conversation.
While the premise of the film leaves a lot to be desired, the entire third act is a slow build-up of revelations. What’s really appreciative of this film is how final everything feels — there’s no fake outs or easy escapes. Once the horror starts happening, it’s not drawn out or convoluted — it just is. The very last sequence feels like an entirely separate film, almost establishing its own mythology within slasher flicks. It’s easy to not care about Charlie, Michelle, Josh, and Mina, but I’m entirely intrigued by our villain. Mostly, The Rental feels more like a set-up than anything else, leaving its most interesting parts for the final few minutes. It’s an ending that perfectly answers questions from the beginning of the film while also expanding its horrors to reality a little too well.