July 20, 2020 The Rental (Movie Review)
If you think quarantine is bad, try taking a getaway to The Rental. IFC Films delivers the seaside Horror-Thriller to select theaters, as well as On Demand, on Friday, July 24th, 2020.
To celebrate the recent success at their small business, partners Charlie (Dan Stevens: Downton Abbey series, Beauty and the Beast 2017) and Mina (Sheila Vand: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night 2014, Snowpiercer series) book a stunning rental for a weekend getaway. Along for the trip are their significant others: Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie: Community series, GLOW series) and Mina’s boyfriend Josh (Jeremy Allen White: Shameless series, Viena and the Fantomes 2020), who also happens to be Charlie’s younger brother.
Despite the grandeur of their rented home, caretaker Taylor (Toby Huss: King of the Hill series, Rescue Dawn 2006) is off-putting, to say the least. Add to this the fact that Josh and Mina discover a mysterious door beneath the house, one with an electronic keypad, and the group’s vacation begins with some seriously ruffled feathers. It’s not too long before the external tension turns inward as the foursome’s buried secrets begin to float toward the surface. Can the quartet survive a weekend of sex, lies, and voyeurism?
Clocking in at 88 minutes, The Rental is an impressive feature-length directorial debut for Dave Franco (Dream Girl W/ Dave Franco & Alison Brie video short 2013), and was written by Franco with Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies 2013, Easy series) and Mike Demski (X-Play series, Uncle Nick 2015).
Billed as a Horror-Thriller, The Rental bundles elements of such classic offerings as 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer and 2008’s The Strangers to create an experience that will keep you guessing. With lush cinematography from Christian Sprenger (Atlanta series, Guava Island 2019) that emphasizes the beautiful natural scenery, and an absolutely to die for cliffside home, the film sets a tone that is perfect for summer viewing. Coupled with a magnificently evocative and eerie score by Danny Bensi (Ozark series, The Outsider series) and Saunder Jurriaans (The Autopsy of Jane Doe 2016, Fear the Walking Dead), this is a movie-going experience that will appease all the senses.
Admittedly, the story here is not necessarily the most unique; though it takes elements from varying influences to craft a moody Thriller that sees four individuals’ secrets and lies flooding toward the surface. Just when you think you have the future figured out, the tale shifts into something more ominous. Which is not to say that this is a gratuitous Horror flick, because it is not. Instead, The Rental spends its initial two acts directing viewers to the tension within the group, before shifting gears in its finale. That ending? That’s for you to debate!
Allowing for the success of the story, the cast might be small in number—composed of five main actors—but they offer a lot to their audience. Though none of these characters is exactly three-dimensional, they manage to toe the line, particularly Stevens’ Charlie. The de facto leader of the group, a hard-working and intelligent man who just wants a peaceful escape, the more we learn about Charlie, the more complicated he becomes. Many of his flaws are shown to us through the dialogue of others, but Stevens is always careful to embrace nuance and allow his audience the chance to play the judge. In this, he gives a stellar performance with the material he is given. Similarly, Vands’ portrayal of the fierce Mina is exceptional. Able to effectively communicate the independent spirit of her role, as well as the complicated and vulnerable pieces of Mina, Vand creates a woman who is wholly likable, if flawed.
In their supporting roles, Brie, White, and Huss all do a wonderful job with their characters. Huss is unsettling from the very first moment, and yet he never actually does anything blatantly unnerving. There is an argument made for Taylor being a racist (or, more likely, a misogynist), but the evidence is always cloaked in a veil of ambiguity. Meanwhile, Brie and White are given less to work with than their co-stars: Brie as the doting wife and White as the problematic brother. Their characters feel more like tropes, though both actors give commendable performances.
In short, The Rental is not apt to change your entire view of the Thriller, but it is still a sleek, well-done entry into the genre that will keep you entertained throughout its runtime. Thanks to a wonderful cast of talented actors and crew, lush cinematography, and a phenomenal score, all of the elements come together to craft a journey that is worth taking. With echoes of beloved Horror offerings, this intelligently wrought film places Writer-Director Franco firmly onto the map. For this, Cryptic Rock gives The Rental 4 of 5 stars.