A few weeks ago, my family and I headed up to a secluded lakeside cabin in Western Maine for a quiet getaway. It was my first time renting an Airbnb and everything went smoothly but there was an unsettling feeling those first few nights as I lay down to sleep; I would remember that I was staying in the house of someone that I don’t really know…a house that they could enter at any time while we slept.
As a horror fan, my mind always goes to these dark places; I’m used to it. Thankfully though, I had not yet seen The Rental before my Maine vacation or that “unsettling feeling” I got at night would have been decidedly amplified. Directed by Dave Franco (yes, that Dave Franco), on a screenplay by him and Joe Swanberg (V/H/S), The Rental starts out with a lovely couple named Charlie and Mina at their office celebrating some type of work triumph by planning a potential weekend getaway at a beach-side rental that they’re fawning over online. Oh wait, they’re not a couple at all…they’re just co-workers, we learn, as the woman’s boyfriend Josh shows up at the office. And Josh happens to be Charlie’s brother…hmmmm.
So, the trio also gathers up Charlie’s wife Michelle and they all agree to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for the weekend to recharge for the workweek ahead. Obvious sexual tension between Charlie and Mina aside, something else odd occurs before the trip: Mina tried to secure the rental but was denied and Charlie tried a bit later and was accepted immediately – Mina immediately blames racism to her Middle Eastern last name and Charlie brushes it off.
When they get to the gorgeous location, they meet their host Taylor, played by the venerable Toby Huss (2018’s Halloween). Taylor comes off a bit rude and only gets surlier when Mina questions him about her refused rental attempt. The boys do their best to diffuse the situation and send Taylor on his way so they can begin their weekend vacay.
While discussing what kind of shenanigans they’re going to get into, a 2-hour hike to a waterfall is planned for the following day but for tonight, Michelle breaks out the Ecstasy and then ironically is the only one who doesn’t want to do any of it because she wants to be fresh for the hike the next day (lame-o). The rest of the gang decides to indulge which leads to a sick 1am dance party while Michelle conks out. Before long Josh falls asleep on the couch leaving just Charlie, Mina, a hot tub, their sexual tension and a couple of heads full of Molly.
Well, what starts between the two in the hot tub then moves to a water-conserving shower scene and concludes with the two waking up full of remorse the next day. Charlie and Mina use the excuse of their long, drug-fueled night to bow out of the hiking trip leaving Josh and sister-in-law Michelle to tackle the excursion alone while Charlie and Mina discuss how to never talk about what happened. While discussing, Mina discovers what appears to be a hidden camera in the shower that her and Charlie used the night before.
Mina wants to call the cops immediately, but Charlie tells her that if they do that, the person with the footage of their indiscretion may release it to their loved ones – it’s best to just forget about it, Charlie says. They also discover a camera in the other bathroom and decide that it’s for the best that they just act cool and ride out the remainder of the weekend like nothing happened.
Later that night, Michelle busts out the E and says that they should all party but no one else in the house wants to (poor girl). So, she decides to go on her own trip and while she’s out there, she calls Taylor back to the house to fix the hot tub. Uh-oh. Obviously, Charlie and Mina are uncool with Mr. Recording Devices coming back to the house, but they can’t let on to the other two less they get suspicious. Unfortunately for the group, shit jumps off when Mina can’t hold her tongue and accuses Taylor of planting the devices to spy on them which leads to some fisticuffs and a situation that gets way out of hand. From here, things start to go haywire for Taylor and the foursome, as if they weren’t a mess already.
What’s awesome about The Rental is that the wait for the “horror action” to begin was already pretty “horror-full”; in a lot of movies with tons of character development and “slow burn” atmosphere, a sort of bored anticipation can set in but that’s not the case with The Rental. Learning that the sort of straight-laced Charlie is really a mansplaining shithead and that well-intentioned Josh is not always well-thought out Josh is crucial to the bad decisions this group makes throughout their short time on screen and it makes for a very tense, atmospheric ride toward the bloody bits of the film.
The performances are top-notch. Dan Stephens (Beauty and the Beast) nails the transition from “good guy” to shithead as Charlie while Jeremy Allen White as Josh does a solid job as the fuck-up younger brother who’s spent his life in the shadow of the successful Charlie. Alison Brie (GLOW) as Michelle was quirky and likeable which left me feeling bad for her toward the end and Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) continues to prove that she can own any role that she plays. Toby Huss as Taylor…man, he was great – a perfect casting in this role.
What Dave Franco manages to accomplish with his first film is really awesome – a solid tension builder from beginning to end. Kudos also to Christian Sprenger for superb cinematography and an amazing score by Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans (Ozark, The Outsider). I’m very psyched to see what the future hold for Dave as a director and I hope that he’ll re-visit the horror genre because he’s got a knack for it.
The Rental is available for rent on Amazon Prime…just be sure that you’re not planning on staying in an Airbnb before watching.