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"The Rental" Is a Flawed yet Thrilling Directorial Debut From Dave Franco

My name is Caleb Luther and I’ve been reviewing film, music, and television on the internet since 2011.

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With mainstream movies continuously getting pushed back as a result of the pandemic, smaller VOD films are likely to flourish more than ever before. Dave Franco's The Rental has the potential to be a hit on the streaming circuits for several reasons. For one, horror movies typically circulate more buzz on social media than other film genres. Just look at 2018's Birdbox, a surprise apocalyptic hit from Netflix. If that film had been released like any other movie in theaters, I truly believe it wouldn't have been talked about as much. When a person can just sit on their couch, press a couple buttons, then watch a brand new movie, it's super convenient. In the case of The Rental, it's like it was made for quarantine viewing.

This directorial debut from Dave Franco follows two couples as they stay the weekend at a vacation home that they rented. The two most familiar faces in the film are most likely Alison Brie and Dan Stevens. They play a married couple who's joined by another couple played by Sheila Vand and Jeremy Allen White. The film does an excellent job in its introduction, providing hints of tension without overexposing the true meat of the film. In the early moments, the film doesn't even feel like a horror/thriller, more so leaning into indie drama elements. In that sense, I really respected the films vision. Franco has a pretty decent visual eye for making things feel intimate and uncomfortable. And while the cinematography isn't anything spectacular, it still felt more sincere than most mainstream horror films you'd see in the theater. As The Rental moves along, the tension quietly keeps picking up. Something is about to burst in front of us, but we're not quite sure what it is.

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To me, the natural build up for the film is undoubtedly the most standout thing about it. There's a sense of dread in not really knowing what's going to happen next. The funny thing is, the dread is not entirely focused on horror. These real life relationships feel fragile, as if they could crumble in any given second. The horror elements add a nice touch to the drama that we've been watching for an hour or so. Unfortunately, the third act doesn't fully deliver. Sure, this is the part of the film that horror fans probably want to see, but it feels somewhat flimsy and uninspired. There's a decent blend of films like The Strangers and Very Bad Things, but the payoff ultimately left me wanting more. The film also hints at some social themes that ultimately go pretty undeveloped, leaving me wondering why it was even introduced in the first place. As for standouts, every time Toby Huss showed up as the landlord, I felt uneasy and cold. However, I do wish that they had developed his character just a bit more. Even with my disappointment, I was absolutely never bored. I was always curious what the next move would be, even when there was no more moves to be made.

As a stay at home, quarantine watch, The Rental delivers for anyone looking for an intimate, midnight thriller. But as a film that feels like something new and fresh, The Rental slightly falters. While it didn't feel particularly scary for me, the borderline "bottle film" aspect of it may appeal greatly to those who feel claustrophobic easily. Most importantly, the film runs at a tight 88 minutes, so at least it understood to not overstay its welcome. For only $6, you could do far worse than The Rental.

Grade: B-