In our world today, technology and apps have not only allowed us to order rides from complete strangers but also rent someone’s home, room or cottage for the desired time. You just pick a date, show up for the keys and it’s yours for the weekend without ever really knowing exactly who you’re renting from apart from face value. Most people who participate in this system are more than likely comfortable with the idea, myself included; but what if the fear of being watched or recorded without your knowledge was brought to life. In the case of The Rental, that is exactly what’s demonstrated on screen.
Directed by Dave Franco (21 Jump Street) and co-written by Joe Swanberg (Easy, Drinking Buddies), The Rental follows Charlie and Josh; two brothers who plan a weekend getaway to an Airbnb cottage with their partners Michelle and Mina. After an awkward encounter with the homeowner and some not so subtle racist remarks made towards Mina who is Middle Eastern, they settle in for a weekend of relaxation and fun; or so they thought. The film disguises itself as a relationship drama between the brothers and their partners until hidden cameras and strange noises come into play; quickly jumping into horror slasher territory by the third act.
For his directorial debut, Franco has a sharply written character study that slowly burns into slasher trope after slasher trope. Does it work though? For the most part yes but this is mostly due to the incredible cast he has on hand. Dan Stevens (The Guest) and Jeremy Allen White (Shameless) play Charlie and Josh. Charlie is a complete douche disguised as a “nice guy”; he mansplains things to the women and his younger brother as well, whom he thinks less of due to his mildly poor life decisions. He makes advances towards his brother’s girlfriend and is essentially a pig, but Dan Stevens plays him to perfection and he’s so much fun to root against. Then there’s Josh, he doesn’t have the same career or life success but he’s a great guy with actual morals. Jeremy Allen White shines in this role in so many ways. He’s vulnerable, funny, and easily the most likeable of all of them. Essentially I’d love to see him take on more film roles outside of Shameless.
Although the two men are fantastic in this film, it’s Alison Brie (GLOW) who steals the show. Now by this point in her career, we know how versatile and consistent she’s been. Although Michelle isn’t the meatiest character of the bunch, Brie portrays her in such a human and grounded way. You feel for her entirely and when she chooses to get high on her own as she’s surrounded by the others who just want a chill night, the movie really peaks due to her performance. She’s hilarious and plays her as realistic as it gets; we’re once again reminded as to why Alison Brie is a name we continue to see more of and why that makes us so happy. On top of that, it was fun to see her work so well under the direction of her husband, Franco himself.
Rounding out the cast is the talented Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night). Her chemistry with Jeremy Allen White and Dan Stevens is exceptional; and although her character Mina makes many poor decisions throughout the film, we can’t help but root for by the end and I believe that’s all because of Vand’s performance. –
At the end of the day, The Rental doesn’t reinvent the genre or give us the most original story. I could even see some people wondering what was the point at the end of the film. It’s a modernized take on the home invasion and a realistic one at that. Franco gave us an anxiety inducing drama that all explodes in its final twenty minutes and it was a blast. I even caught myself screaming out loud a few times, but if you’re not a fan of open endings and simple plots then this might not be for you. Although flawed, it was a step in the right direction for Dave Franco’s feature debut behind the cameras and I for one can not wait to see what he does next.