Dave Franco makes his directorial debut with “The Rental”, a surprisingly nimble horror-thriller that leads you in several different directions before fully revealing itself to be something I wasn’t expecting. The story (co-written by Franco and Joe Swanberg) makes some things a little too obvious, but the high-energy final 15 minutes comes out of nowhere and left a pretty big smile on my face.
The story follows two couples who rent a beautiful oceanside home for a weekend getaway. The first couple is Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his wife Michelle (Alison Brie). The other is Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and his girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand) who also happens to be Charlie’s close-working business partner. If that sounds a little icky to you then you’re right where the movie wants you. In fact the very first scene firmly plants a suspicion in the your head that sticks there for much of the film.
The four arrive at the remote yet picturesque vacation home and are greeted by the property’s slimy caretaker Taylor (Toby Huss). He gives them the tour, says several creepy things, and then leaves them to their fun and relaxing weekend. Or so they think. Franco takes his time uncoiling his story, putting a ton of early focus on his characters. They prove to be a pretty flawed bunch.
You could say “The Rental” inadvertently makes a strong “Say No to Drugs” case because things really go south once the four decide to take ecstasy. I won’t risk spoiling things by elaborating, but suffice to say most of the bad stuff that follow comes from the group’s ill-advised decision to get high. Secrets are unearthed, jealousy erupts, bad decisions (as they’re prone to do) lead to bad consequences. Soon this fun celebratory getaway is boiling with tension.
But then Franco adds another layer to his film once Mina discovers a hidden camera in the house. “The Rental” goes into full psychological thriller mode as we and the characters wonder who’s watching them? Why are they watching? Even more, what have they seen? And just when you think you’ve figured the movie out Franco hits you with one more change of direction that kinda turns the whole movie on its head (in a good way).
“The Rental” has a lot going on yet it clocks at just under 90 minutes. Franco’s economical storytelling keeps things rolling while giving a surprising amount of attention to his characters. Yet there are instances where he channels things a little too clearly, robbing some story threads of their suspense. It may be an unfair criticism considering we’ve been conditioned by the genre itself to expect certain things. But the film gets it right where it counts most – it’s entertaining, it keeps you locked in and it ends in a fun and unexpected place. A solid first feature behind the camera for Dave Franco. “The Rental” premieres this Friday on VOD.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS