Friday, July 24

The Rental Review

The Rental
Dir: Dave Franco
Starring: Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, and Toby Huss

How many different ways can you start a horror movie? How about this one? A group of young people traveling to a remote location to commit some innocent bad behavior; after some drugs and meaningless sex, a masked killer shows up to ruin the good times. This has happened in countless horror films, “Evil Dead”, “Friday the 13th”, “Cabin in the Woods” are just a few that have done this device successfully. 

Actor, now director, Dave Franco takes his swing into the horror realm with “The Rental”. Gone are the teens and inserted are a group of mature young people in committed relationships, though they still partake in the occasional party drug and innocuous sexual outing. The result offers an unusual spin on the far too common genre setup that, here, is more adult drama than an actual horror film. 

Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Alison Brie) are taking a much-needed trip with Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and Mina (Sheila Vand) to a secluded rental property that sits atop a bluff near the ocean. The group quickly finds comfort in the large house, using the hot tub and going on daily hikes. But there is tension between the couples, especially between Charlie and Mina who work closely with one another. Things get worse when a small camera is found in a showerhead, and a menacing figure looms just outside of view.

Dave Franco, who co-wrote the script with Joe Swanberg, spend great attention on the group dynamics early in the film. We are introduced to the individual couples, then learn about their intertwined relationships, their impulses and irritations, and finally how they cope with stressful situations. It’s a good setup that gets you connected to the individuals and helps establish a group dynamic that becomes compromised the moment danger arrives, which it does in numerous forms more than just a masked killer. 

The problem comes when the film tries to shift gears and turn from an adult relationship drama and into a straightforward horror film. So much time is spent setting up the group and a specific situation they are all raveled up in, that when the horror finally makes an appearance, the pieces established for the story, the ones that have played the main role, are abandoned for an easy compromise. 

Still, there are moments when Mr. Franco displays that he understands how a horror film is supposed to work. Keeping his monster just beyond sight most of the film and using the setup of spy cameras to initiate the intensity that will ultimately destroy the group. When the genre characteristics intrude into the relationship conflicts, the film has a heightened sense of unease. Unfortunately, many of these moments are played just to remind you that there is a mysterious figure looming close instead of introducing a sense of chaos into the storyline.  

Dave Franco shows promise with his directorial debut. “The Rental” may harbor more drama than horror in the end, but even with a familiar story structure, the actors are given time to make the characters convincing. And once the stalking killer arrives, the time spent in the isolated rental home assists in creating tension, it just happens too late to really make the impact it was trying for.

Monte’s Rating
2.50 out of 5.00

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