“The Rental” Movie Review


the-rental-2020

     It’s obviously cliche in a horror film to have characters inhabit the story who consistently make poor and logic defying decisions when faced with the possibility of their own demise.  But by the midway point of first time director Dave Franco’s “The Rental”, the stupidity displayed may actually have you rooting for the bad guy to off all of them just to get it over with.  I really can’t recall a more unlikeable group of characters in any film of recent memory.  And that’s saying something, given what we’ve had to endure in a filmgoing year that has gotten more strange each week.

     Playing off the fear that the person you’re renting an Airbnb from for the weekend may take the protection and surveillance of their property a step too far, Franco, who also wrote the screenplay alongside Joe Swanberg, initially creates the perfect atmosphere for such a scenario, complete with a tension filled score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, and the inviting, yet potentially sinister, remote setting shot by cinematographer Christian Sprenger.  But then we are introduced to Portland area business partners Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Shiela Vand) and any possibility of caring whether they live or die slowly begins to go down the proverbial drain.  Maybe that’s exactly what Franco was looking to do.  It would be an interesting twist, given how characters in horror films are normally not the anti hero type.  If that’s the case, perhaps he’s on to something here.

     Charlie and Mina have just closed a major deal and have a ton of work ahead of them.  To celebrate, they decide to rent a cliffside home, located alongside the Oregon coast, for the weekend.  Along for the ride will be Charlie’s wife Michelle (Allison Brie) and Mina’s boyfriend, Josh (Jeremy Allen White), who also happens to be Charlie’s younger brother.  The quartet seems to embody all of the standard millennial stereotypes, with their idea of a good time being to seclude themselves for the weekend and act as though the rules of life, and those of the home they are renting, do not apply to them.  The owner says no pets, so what do they do? Bring a dog anyway.

     The first half of the film breaks the mold of the genre instantly when we spend plenty of time listening to these youngsters talk about their lives as though they are the only ones who actually exist.  I’m all for any attempt at being a character driven film, but here, the strategy may prove to be a sort of downfall, since by the time the action starts you’re ready for the hammer to fall on all of them.  From the beginning, we immediately understand there’s probably more going on between Charlie and Mina than a simple business relationship.  In an early scene, it’s even questioned by Josh during a stroll on the beach with Michelle, where she answers with minimal confidence that she trusts her husband.

     A peek into Josh’s past is provided during a bedtime conversation between Charlie and Michelle, where the older brother makes clear his distaste for his younger sibling’s multiple failures in life.  There’s even the question by Josh himself if he’s good enough for Mina.  You understand quickly that the dynamic between the group is fragile at best, and the idea of them being alone for the weekend with plenty of booze, drugs, and a hot tub probably isn’t the greatest idea for them to leave with their friendships and relationships intact.  But then, of course, there is something else going on that sees the likelihood of them leaving at all in serious jeopardy.

     The second half of “The Rental” moves away from character study and devolves into the familiar set up of slasher film tropes.  Mina, who felt the need to front the home’s caretaker, Taylor (Toby Huss), about the possibility he purposely did not rent the home to her because of her middle eastern sounding last name, discovers a camera planted in one of the bathroom shower heads and instantly believes it is the “racist” old white guy who is spying on them.  And with him becoming the prime suspect, it’s only a matter of time before the resident hothead, her boyfriend Josh, overreacts and puts the group in a bit of a pickle.  All the while, these morons incriminate themselves through endless conversations where they never think if the house has cameras, could it also be bugged for audio too?  You probably know how the rest of the film will end.

     Those early conversational aspects of “The Rental” will likely remind you of similar exchanges in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”, as this bunch seems hell bent on presuming every single utterance from Taylor’s mouth is either creepy or racist, something that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since all four of them are white.  Either way, it doesn’t really matter since there are far more nefarious forces at work here.  The characters are just too dumb to realize it.  This is the kind of film where the night fog sets in on the home right about the time someone wants to do drugs and take a late night dip, oblivious to the real threat, while constantly allowing their minds to be occupied by destructive thoughts.  All of which prove to be baseless.  Is it a wonder why our country finds itself in the position we are in today?  Forget the Karens.  There are a lot more Charlies, Minas, Michelles, and Joshes flaunting accusatory race politics, and blaming their own failures on a system they believe is somehow rigged against them.  Franco could’ve left the third act on the cutting room floor, and he still would’ve had an effective horror movie.  GRADE: C