Looking for a celebratory weekend away before starting a major project together, co-workers Charlie (Dan Stevens) and wife Michelle (Alison Brie), along with their friends Mina (Sheila Vand) and boyfriend – Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), book a stay at a secluded vacation home.
The best way to describe The Rental would be something like The Strangers meets Vacancy, and the initial set-up touches on the strangeness of staying in what is essentially someone else’s home. Anyone who has stayed at an AirBnb knows that there can be something a little unsettling about using AirBnb rather than a hotel or motel – waking up in someone else’s home filled with their family photos, memories, and possibly even secrets; a great horror premise.
Upon arriving, they have an awkward interaction with the racist and confrontational homeowner Taylor (Toby Huss) and begin to clash over their vacation plans. Mina then notices some suspiciously placed cameras set around the house that allude to a third-party voyeur looking to use the group’s actions against them.
Franco captures this element very well as the group’s initial meeting with Taylor evokes this familiar, yet creepy awkwardness. Aside from Mina and the group getting an immediate racist attitude from Taylor, it’s easy to feel the weirdness even in the conversation, like they’re being invaded on various fronts.
The cast have great chemistry with one another and their slow, unravelling conflicts keep you hooked. There’s an interesting generational divide between the main four, from the way that Charlie and Michelle dress versus how Mina and Josh do, how they speak and the couples’ generally differing attitudes towards life. The brother relationship between Charlie and Josh is also fun, and Franco, with co-writers Joe Swanberg and Mike Demski add in some great black humour too, despite the serious tone of the trailer and promo material.
The relationships become gradually more compelling as they are put to the test and the individuals’ flaws come to light. The way they develop as characters sparks great intrigue in the overall dynamic of the group, creating solid tension. With the characters being so together from the start, their familiarity with each other ends up being the perfect catalyst for a web of lies to consume their group. The film’s shadowy villain is particularly interesting at first because of how he directs the actions and emotions of the group by revealing information to them.
However the tone of the film is completely wasted when it takes an unnecessary slasher turn. None of the information that tears the group apart reaches any kind of satisfying conclusion because of how suddenly the blood starts spilling, and the film misses out on an opportunity to have its voyeur act as a more disturbing bystander. Even for the halfway decent scares that come in the finale, the incredibly generic villain isn’t all that interesting and comes off unwarranted. It’s almost as though he got impatient and just wanted to start killing.
It’s hard not to consider how much more effective and disturbing The Rental could’ve been if it had let the events of the group play out and let the third party be satisfied as an agent of chaos. Not to mention, aside of some jump scare sequences and the cinematography from Christian Sprenger, there’s nothing too exciting about Franco’s overall direction either. It would’ve been much more compelling to see him utilise more of the security camera and CCTV perspectives shown towards the end of the movie, to give a new perspective on the classic found-footage style.