REVIEW: THE RENTAL delivers quality tension and genuine scares.


First-time director Dave Franco delivers a deftly made thriller based on both the horror of the unknown and the emotional toll of blackmail with this excellent genre debut.

There’s a special kind of trepidation that comes upon you when deciding to rent an Air BnB instead of a hotel room when you’re planning a trip. Are these pictures accurate? Is the owner a weirdo? What if the place is all wired up with creepy cameras or infested with bugs? A lot of these fears and the insecurity around being on someone else’s property are explored to their most diabolical conclusion in Franco’s directorial debut, The Rental, opening on demand and in select drive-in theaters this weekend. The film features Legion’s Dan Stevens as Charlie, an entrepreneur who along with his partner, Mina (Sheila Vand), has just closed funding for their start-up. To mark the occasion, Charlie rents a fancy AirBnB for him and Sheila to celebrate along with Charlie’s girlfriend Michelle (Alison Brie) and Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), who also happens to be dating Mina. Josh is kind of a fuck-up; having dropped out of college and spent time in jail for a violent offense. Charlie books the venue, but only after Mina’s reservation is mysteriously denied. Once they get to the house, the doors are mysteriously open and they meet the venue booker Taylor (Toby Huss) who despite his friendliness is passive-aggressively demeaning to Mina. The couples get over the uneasiness and enjoy a fun night at the cabin; where the underlying sexual tension between Charlie and Mina gets the better of them and they ended up hooking up. However, even as they agree it was a one-time thing, Mina checks the showerhead and finds that there are cameras embedded in them. Now, the two are drawn in a dangerous scenario where Taylor may be holding footage to blackmail them with even as the two cannot tell their partners what happened. The question becomes what do Charlie and Mina do, even as it appears that Taylor may have sinister intentions towards Josh and possibly Michelle as well.

The Rental works primarily because director Dave Franco and writer Joe Swanberg keep balancing different genre aspects throughout to keep you guessing as to what kind of genre film it is ultimately. You think its some Hitchcockian thriller when new elements come into play that keep you thinking it might be something like I Know What You Did Last Summer until it ultimately enters classic slasher territory. The film’s sharp editing makes you think you’re seeing more gore than you ultimately are. In that sense, the film has some Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974 vibes, while the audience sees things characters don’t like John Carpenter’s original Halloween. Swanberg’s script, coupled with strong performances from the ensemble cast frame the film in a realistic light in terms of what would people in this situation actually do. The film’s cinematography and score also contribute to making this film really work. It keeps you guessing throughout and the film’s ending will leave you wanting more from Franco, who really nails his first attempt at horror with excellent pacing and builds tension throughout. It could easily have fallen into the mumblegore trap of being too talky and using genre as a crutch to prop up a simple story, but Franco and Swanberg fully jump into The Rental as a genre picture and it is genuinely a trip throughout.

Overall, The Rental is a great genre debut for Franco with a great cast exploring the genre in an innovative way and reconstructing our expectations of a film like this. Make it a destination to seek out The Rental, you won’t be disappointed.