New Horror Releases: The Rental (2020) - Reviewed

Dave Franco is an ambitious man.  Typically known for his acting in goofball comedies, he’s been venturing out of his comfort zone in recent years.  His directorial debut The Rental proves that he’s more than just a handsome face that knows how to be funny.  Also co-written by him, the film is a suspenseful, intelligent examination of Airbnb culture, surveillance, and modern relationships. 

We’ve all seen it before: a group of people gets more than they bargained for during their weekend getaway in the middle of nowhere.  What we haven’t seen is this premise played out quite this way.  Two brothers and their significant others rent a huge, sleek-looking house in the woods to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.  When they arrive, they’re put off by the man who gives the property tour for seeming rude, racist, and overall a bit “backwoodsy.”  This is no Deliverance, however.  After finding cameras spying on them in the showers following an evening of bad decisions, they realize something sinister is afoot, but I’ll leave it at that.  

The cast is small but strong, consisting of mostly well-known actors that effortlessly carry this story.  Alison Brie is sympathetic and sincere as Michelle, while Jeremy Allen White – famous for his role in Shameless – brings the reactionary, “wild card” character of Josh to life with restraint enough to make him believable.  While the majority of characters are mostly two-dimensional, there is enough chemistry and sheer talent between them all to make it work, especially so when secrets are unveiled and tensions are heightened. 

The sense of atmosphere is rich and almost indulgent at times in The Rental.  The cinematography compliments the lavish, contemporary house perfectly, and the scenes of nature range from beautiful at the beginning to intensely gloomy and foreboding near the climax.  The camera movements are thoroughly thought out, and the shot compositions are carefully considered here.  While most of the film reads more like a thriller than anything else, the visual choices made the last thirty minutes of the film suggest that it’s a bona-fide horror film underneath it all.

The pacing of the film is perfect, at first lulling the audience into a comfort zone, and then slowly building tension as the film progresses with subtle hints that something is amiss – until it reaches an unrelenting momentum of colliding storylines and clever cuts between action-packed scenes that are nearly anxiety-inducing to watch.  This is its greatest achievement: it has a near Hitchcockian approach at suspense and misdirection that elevates it over most films of its kind. 

There is a simplicity about The Rental that is pure and welcomed.  It is comfortable in its small, moody world, and explores it well, with plenty of surprises for the viewer along the way.  From its most intimate relationship conflicts to the moments of full-blown terror and desperation, Dave Franco executes this film so masterfully that it would make most first-timers green with envy.  Anyone that loves a good thriller with strong horror undertones should give The Rental a watch. 

--Andrea Riley