It goes without saying that within the realms of the horror film, setting plays a large factor. From the Bates Motel – and, by extension, THAT shower – in Psycho to the murderous New York dwelling of The Amityville Horror, places of habitation are often their own character if utilised precisely enough. In The Rental, actor Dave Franco‘s directorial debut, the ocean-viewed getaway at the centre of his gradually unnerving thriller is one such location that takes on a life of its own; to say people would kill for it is not an exaggeration.
Seeking a little break from their particular working schedules, Charlie (Dan Stevens), his business partner Mina (Sheila Vand), and their respective partners, Michelle (Alison Brie) and Josh (Jeremy Allen White), rent out the aforementioned oceanside abode for an intended weekend of occasional recreation and drug-fuelled evenings.
Before they even arrive there’s a lingering sense of tension spaced across the majority of each party. The closeness of Charlie and Mina can’t be denied – we’re taken aback when we realise they aren’t a couple following the opening minutes setting up their dynamic – and we can only imagine what will unfold on a weekend with their inhibitions loosened. Josh, who we sense has a checkered past, is defying the house rules by bringing his dog along, and Mina can’t help but shake the sense of casual racism peppered throughout her correspondence with the home owner, Taylor (Toby Huss), who denied her request, only to accept Charlie’s minutes later; her Iranian heritage clearly an issue.
With the sexual tension rising between Charlie and Mina, which ultimately brings about a question of his previous fidelity to his partners prior to Michelle, The Rental initially plays itself out like a character-driven drama, and had Franco and co-writer Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) just kept on this path the film would’ve succeeded within this genre. But there’s more at play than just suspicious partners, and when Mina uncovers what appears to be a camera hidden within her shower head, the film instantaneously switches gears, somehow seamlessly transferring from its dramatic tones to a more psychological thriller, before adopting a sinister slasher film mentality that feels incredibly organic.
Whilst Franco isn’t exactly working with the most original premise, he manages to make enough of The Rental‘s narrative his own that he gets away with it. And given how he manages to make a film as watchable as it is in spite of mostly unlikeable characters – Charlie being the main culprit – it’s a testament to his skills as a storyteller. Morally questionable people are often the most interesting though, and in a film that culminates in a slaughtering of sorts there’s a sense of twisted justice served.
Traditional slasher fans may not necessarily appreciate Franco’s slow burn approach to the narrative – though the film’s closing moments (including one of the most terrifying closing shots put to screen in recent memory) certainly should satisfy – but for those who savour a gradual build up and characters who feel like real people, however flawed they are, The Rental should prove a satisfying destination.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Rental will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from Friday January 22nd, 2021.