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The Rental #MovieReview

Two couples embark on a weekend getaway to the seemingly perfect house they’ve booked online. But what begins as a celebratory weekend turns into something far more sinister.

Tagline: Secluded getaway. Killer views.

Title: The Rental | Director: Dave Franco | Starring: Dan StevensAlison BrieSheila Vand  Jeremy Allen White | Release Year: 2020 | Runtime: 88 minutes | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Source: Streaming

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The Rental Review

There are a few things I love in a horror film: when it takes the time to properly establish its characters, when it could work as a decent non-genre movie if you took the horror elements out, and when it features Dan Stevens (see: The Guest). Dave Franco’s directorial debut The Rental ticks all three boxes, luxuriating in a good hour of character work before really becoming a slasher movie, a few creepy suggestions that someone’s watching the house aside.

It’s your basic cabin in the woods setup, except in this case the cabin is a swanky Airbnb lakeside chalet in the Pacific Northwest, where couples Charlie and Michelle (Dan Stevens and Alison Brie) and Mina and Josh (Sheila Vand and Jeremy Allen White) decide to book an impromptu weekend away. Charlie and Mina’s nebulously defined internet startup is doing well and they feel they deserve a break. Josh is Charlie’s brother; he met Mina through their partnership, and is worried he’s not good enough for her. Michelle tries not to be threatened by Charlie and Mina’s closeness. On the first night of their vacation, they all decide to take ecstasy, secrets come out, resentments bubble up, tensions reach breaking point – the usual.

Into this mix, add the always wonderful Toby Huss as casually maybe-racist property manager Taylor. Mina is the only non-white member of the group, and things go sour early when her initial booking is rejected but Charlie’s attempt is accepted an hour later. She’s sure she’s been profiled. When she meets Taylor, he cheerily asks, ‘How’d you get mixed up in this family?’ It’s right on the line: it’s the kind of question strangers ask to make conversation, to engage with people. Maybe it’s nothing. But he asks her, not Michelle. Worse, when she confronts him on the issue with the booking, everyone else looks embarrassed, no one stands up for her.

It’s all strong stuff, delivered well by an excellent cast. The interpersonal issues are engaging and spiral nicely. The dialogue in The Rental is naturalistic, believable. As I say, if the horror elements never kicked in and they all drove home on the Sunday morning in an icy silence, this would be a decent relationship drama. But there’s the lingering suggestion that something else is going on. There’s a mysterious locked door under the house. Josh’s dog goes missing. We cut occasionally to POV shots from the woods, watching the characters move about inside. Taylor’s maybe a racist, maybe a creep, but does that make him a psycho-killer?

At this point, I was decently invested, intrigued at how things would play out, what would happen to these characters. But then the killings started and I was left confused and disappointed. The wrong people were dying, in the wrong order. The deaths were oddly muted: too quick and matter of fact to be satisfying. Some take place almost outside of the frame, so brief you’re not sure what’s happened, whether the character’s even dead. I thought Franco had botched things right at the end – good at the drama elements, lousy at horror.

And then the final couple of minutes of The Rental recontextualizes everything. Obviously, I don’t want to go into detail about what happens or why it makes clear the lacklustre slasher stuff is very deliberate, but I think it’s worth highlighting that there is a twist, as the movie has been unfairly panned and slept upon. What Franco reveals in the last few moments of the film is that he knows exactly what he’s doing. If you’re a fan of the genre, this is well worth your time seeking out. I hope he directs again, and soon. With a first effort as strong as this, I’m very excited to see what he comes up with next.

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