The Rental (2020)

“I want it now.”

The Rental, while fairly basic in plot but sporting a surprisingly sinister tone, seems to be part of the ever evolving home invasion horror genre. We’ve seen people hunkered in their houses fighting against outside terrors forcing their way in, and we’ve watched families torn apart from the inside out as tension builds their rifts into bloody, seismic shifts. Not only does The Rental play with both of these aspects, it also adds in the voluntary nature of the folks being toyed with, thinking they’re signing up for an idyllic weekend getaway without first reading the grim terms and conditions of the agreement.

I can’t recall what Charlie (Dan Stevens) does for a living and I’m not sure it really matters either. He’s in some form of business with a corner office gig, something goes right to line his pockets and boost his portfolio, and a few days on the coast are meant to be the intimate headquarters for celebration. Accompanying him to the Airbnb inspired escape is his wife Michelle (Alison Brie), his right hand work partner Mina (Sheila Vand), who just so happens to be dating Charlie’s younger brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White). What starts out as a slice of paradise quickly dissolves into a decaying mud pie made out of failing relationships, unearthed truths, and the potential for infidelity, especially after they meet the creepy and unknowingly racist property manager Taylor (Toby Huss).

On a purely technical level, there’s nothing all that remarkable about Dave Franco’s workmanlike directorial debut. It’s moody, atmospheric, and ratchets up the suspense in believable ways. A few voyeuristic shots add subtle artistry to the otherwise standard compositions. Yet at less than 90 minutes, the film’s competent, efficient work ethic highlights a script that says a lot while showing relatively little to nothing, even as the hypnotic credits roll (which, once you watch the movie, proves the picture’s entire point about how fascinating and empowering it is to be the one doing the looking and how eerie it is to be the camera’s prey). The Rental understands its horror shticks, adheres to the old final girl trope, and turns everything on end with one of the more memorable and shocking third acts of 2020. I can honestly say I did not see it coming.

Some will be let down by The Rental, others with be intrigued, and I have to believe that plenty of folks will sit there as a frustrated combination of the two. And that’s because the film, co-written by Franco and Joe Swanberg (whose DNA can be felt from open to close), doesn’t settle for easy answers or any sort of clear cut resolution. It’s a modest movie with a stark story about how, more often than not, we are the co-conspirators of our own undoing, and how the architects behind it all retain anonymity while the rest of us swear over our safety to complete strangers with a few good online reviews for the sake of abundant comfort. The Rental reckons with the inherently strange nature of paying to live in a complete stranger’s home, and while it makes the viewer feel uneasy and unsafe about where they’ve been, I’ll bet it makes the vast majority more cautious and wary before spontaneously booking another 5-star cabin for a weekend retreat. The film leaves us on edge for a reason.

“You guys don’t find this creepy at all?”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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