Review by Sean Boelman
Recently it seems there has been a trend of largely comedic actors making their foray into directing with a horror movie. The latest in that trend is Dave Franco with his debut The Rental, however, unlike his more successful peers, Franco doesn’t seem to have found his voice quite yet, resulting in a film that is disappointingly confused.
The movie follows two couples who rent a vacation home for a weekend getaway, only to discover that something more sinister is afoot. This setup is nothing new for the horror genre, many classics exploring the idea of a voyeur taking advantage of unsuspecting guests at a hotel, and Franco’s attempts at modernizing these tropes for the AirBnB generation are not enough to make it stand out.
Unfortunately, Franco doesn’t seem to have been able to grasp how to build suspense effectively. There are a few really strong scenes that show his potential if he ever gets the chance to work with stronger material, but for the most part, the film is extremely uneven. The first half is rather dull, and the rushed second half over-compensates for it and is overwhelming as a result.
Also problematic is the fact that much of the script’s commentary comes off as insincere and distant. The first half introduces some themes involving racism and prejudice, but these are largely abandoned heading into a by-the-numbers finale. Everything that is said is just so surface-level that one wonders why they even bothered in the first place.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the film, though, is that the characters aren’t very likable. They have little to no personality, and when they do, their traits are more annoying than charming. Typically, in a movie like this, it doesn’t take much to make the audience sympathize with the characters, but Franco and co-writer Joe Swanberg fail to meet even the bare minimum in that regard.
That said, the film manages to hold together, if only barely, thanks to the efforts of its talented cast. The four main actors — Dan Stevens, Allison Brie, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White — all have great chemistry together. Stevens and Vand stand out with the more nuanced performances of the batch, but Toby Huss is also a scene-stealer in his supporting part.
The movie also has some really interesting ideas aesthetically. Even though there isn’t a whole lot of suspense in the narrative, Franco is able to build a decent atmosphere with the visuals (even if they are a tad generic at times). A few uncannily gorgeous shots are here as well, showing an effort at juxtaposition that doesn’t completely pay off.
Dave Franco’s directorial debut The Rental is an interesting display of the actor’s potential behind the camera, but it doesn’t stand alone as a potent chiller in its own regard. Still, it’s enough to make one think twice before making another online booking.
The Rental hits theaters and VOD on July 24.