‘The Rental’ Is Gritty and Unpredictable [Watch]

Horror

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The Rental

Welcome to The Overlooked Motel, a place where under-seen and unappreciated films are given their moment in the spotlight. I hope you enjoy your stay here and find the accommodations to be suitable. Now, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable. I have some misbehaving guests to ‘correct.’

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Today’s pick is a selection from the recently established ‘homeshare horror’ subgenre. I’m talking about the 2020 Dave Franco-directed chiller, The Rental. The film benefits from a solid screenplay, a great cast, a gritty tone, and an unpredictable narrative. 

The flick follows Charlie (Dan Stevens of The Guest fame), Michelle (Glow’s Alison Brie), Mina (Sheila Vand of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), and Josh (Jeremy Allen White, The Bear) as they rent a homeshare for a couples’ weekend getaway. But the idyllic escape proves to be anything but tranquil when the foursome realizes that someone—or something—is watching them. 

I’ve often heard that actors make the best directors. And while I wouldn’t say that Dave Franco is an unstoppable creative force just yet, I think he does a pretty solid job in his feature film directorial debut. Franco proves competent at tension building and showcases a good understanding of crafting atmosphere through camerawork.  

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Long before the film’s ultimate threat is revealed, Franco works to keep the viewer ill at ease. He gives us voyeuristic shots of the rental property paired with a foreboding score that reminds us that someone or something is lying in wait and watching; suggesting it’s only a matter of time before matters take a dark turn. While things do eventually take a dark turn, the film’s earlier scenes are more about character development, slowly building to an ominous climax. 

Franco cowrites the screenplay with prolific genre creator Joe Swanberg. The pair craft an interesting yarn that makes effective use of misdirection. Early in the film, it’s abundantly clear that something is amiss. But Franco keeps the audience in suspense as to exactly what or whom the primary antagonist will be. As we are getting to know the characters, there are several sources of tension that work to build atmosphere before the true threat is revealed. One early source of unease is the fractures between the core group. Resentments come to the surface as sexual tension comes to a head, rocking the foundation of both couple’s respective unions. 

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Franco and Swanberg’s screenplay subverts the common cliché of no cell phone service nicely. The couples have Wi-Fi and cell service and could call the police to report what’s happening. But a dark secret makes that option less appealing, forcing members of the group to keep things from one another and deal with the aftermath on their own, rather than risk being exposed by calling in the authorities. In addition to rendering the cell phone piece irrelevant, that bit also marks the introduction of a salacious secret that strains the dynamic between the characters and furthers the progression of the gradually mounting tension. 

The film has a gritty tone that works well with the unpredictable nature of the narrative. Both the tonality and the unexpected places the flick goes give the impression that anything may happen. I was on the edge of my seat the first time I watched The Rental and I had my expectations upended more than once. In going back to give it a rewatch, I was able to pick up on a couple details I overlooked the first time. I came away from my second viewing appreciating the ways in which one of the twists is set up and supported. 

Tonal elements and twists aside, The Rental has a subtle sense of humor that comes into play on occasion. The banter between the characters is funny and well written. And there are some awkward exchanges that pay dividends. One comical sequence sees Michelle telling the caretaker that she’s on drugs and would like to get into the hot tub as soon as possible. After that, she starts pretending to motorboat his butt cleavage. I laughed out loud at both. Comedy is subjective, so I can’t say for sure that everyone will get the same mileage I did from the film’s comic elements. But I really enjoyed the picture’s sense of humor. 

On the whole, The Rental is unpredictable, gritty, and features a strong cast and an impressive turn from Dave Franco in his feature film directorial debut. If you’re interested in checking out this feature, you can find it streaming on Netflix as of the publication of this post. 

That’s all for this installment of The Overlooked Motel. If you’d like to chat more about under-seen and underrated films, feel free to hit me up with your thoughts on TwitterThreads, or Instagram


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