If you were looking for a reason to talk yourself down out of your next lavish Airbnb stay … look no further than The Rental.
Dave Franco’s directorial debut has officially landed in select theaters, drive-ins, and on demand, and it tells a chilling story that will leave you feeling unsettled long after the end credits finish rolling.
Co-written by Franco (Neighbors, The Disaster Artist) and Joe Swanberg (You’re Next), The Rental stars Alison Brie (GLOW), Dan Stevens (Legion), Jeremy Allen White (Shameless), and Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night). The film follows the story of brothers Charlie (Stevens) and Josh (White), as they embark on the perfect weekend getaway to a beautiful oceanside rental home with their respective partners, wife Michelle (Brie) and girlfriend Mina (Vand).
Early on, it becomes clear that the Airbnb-esque rental property won’t be the only source of drama in the film. There are hints of Charlie’s overly friendly relationship with his work partner Mina, his harsh judgement of his brother Josh’s mistakes and life choices, and his obvious displeasure over the fact that the two are dating. Pair that with Josh’s executive decision to bring his dog, unannounced, on the trip (despite the rental’s no dog policy), and the trip is fraught with tension long before things truly go awry.
After a less-than-stellar meet and greet with their host, who’s essentially a walking red flag, the audience begins to multitask between dissecting the suspicious nature of what’s going on in and around the home while also side-eyeing the interpersonal issues between Charlie, Michelle, Josh, and Mina. Scenes switch from a loud, front row view of the drama unfolding between the friends, to something much more quiet and voyeuristic, a reminder that this is indeed a horror film and not just a drama piece. There are points where you’ll want to grab the couples, shake them, and ask why in world they’re too caught up in their own problems to recognize and address the far more pressing and dangerous issues at hand. In ways, the film also serves as an interesting study of the human psyche, as members of the group make decisions that sacrifice their morality for the sake of self-preservation while choosing to otherwise ignore ominous threats that are lurking just beneath the surface.
As to be expected, Stevens put on an excellent performance as Charlie. As an actor, he has a knack for expertly toeing the line with a portrayal of a seemingly likeable character that — for a lack of better words — does bad things. Also, for those coming fresh off of Stevens’ part in Netflix’s Eurovision film: I see your fabulous, singing Alexander Lemtov and I raise you a wild Stevens, high on Molly, dancing around with a French Bulldog with unfettered enthusiasm. Brie was also a force to be reckoned with opposite Stevens, vacillating between a perky and bubbly demeanor, to sheer panic and anger, with a particularly amusing drug-addled performance sandwiched in between. Vand and White round out the final corners of the quartet, playing off of the rapid push and pull of emotions they’re both put through over the course of the film with precision.
While The Rental brandishes a terrifying premise with a steady feeling of unease throughout — that “okay, when is something terrible going to happen?” feeling — the movie itself isn’t overflowing with jump scares. That’s not to say there aren’t a few heart-pounding moments, and times where you’ll most definitely find yourself yelling “NOPE!”, but those that do occur are placed sparingly, giving them much more impact when the events unfold.
There’s one particular scene in the latter half of the film, where the lighting and colors are muted because the sky is just beginning to wake up and there’s a thick, rolling fog blanketing the woods. The simplistic, utter terror of what occurs right then and there feels reminiscent of a classic horror flick, and it’s one of my favorite parts. Meanwhile, the final sequence itself is arguably the most unnerving, as it lays bare the most spine-chilling revelation that the film has to offer, the utter plausibility of which will undoubtedly latch on to viewers and … well … we’ll leave it up to you if you’re still planning on staying in a rental home anytime soon.
And for those that are wondering, because it’s generally my first panicked thought at the beginning of any horror film — spoiler alert: the dog lives.