Review: THE RENTAL, You May Want to Choose the Early Check-out
Anyone who’s ever rented a house or signed up for Airbnb lodgings in a remote corner of the world may have felt uncertainty sneak up. Naggingly, your mind begins to wonder: What if it’s all too good to be true? What if the actual owner hasn’t left the property and is still very much around, spying on me? The Rental homes in on a recognizable fear, but fails to treat visitors to an unforgettable experience. While not entirely without merit, Dave Franco’s directorial debut racks up the missed opportunities and boringly coasts on conventional sights.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that The Rental thrives on familiarity. Two couples in need of a get-away set their sights on a stunning seaside villa. The luxury house at the edge of a cliff is as dreamy as advertised, but the casually racist guy who handles the bookings for his brother’s home is a crude reality check for Mina (Sheila Vand) and equally aggravating to her boyfriend Josh (Jeremy Allen White). Michelle (Alison Brie) and Charlie (Dan Stevens) try to diffuse the bitter start, but it’s clear no one will be leaving their troubles behind anytime soon.
To the contrary, Franco’s debut gradually sours everyone’s vacation plans by putting pressure on tiny relationship fractures. Mina and Charlie are close coworkers and Josh and Michelle are not as fine with it as they lead their partners to believe. A party and a bit of ecstasy go a long way towards escalating things and once Mina and Charlie discover that privacy is nonexistent in this luxury property, their attention soon shifts to keeping a secret tryst under wraps. Easier said than done, since an unseen, voyeuristic third party seems keen on playing the couples out against each other.
The Rental is an uneven film with a flawed but more ambitious first half. It starts plausibly enough and tries to mount a character-driven interpersonal tension before straining credibility and getting stuck in neutral. The film is not above poking fun at the stupidity of its characters and has a laugh or two at the expense of ordinary people who find out that disposing of a body is not as straightforward as movies have led us to believe. Unfortunately, coming well after the 50 minute mark, this bit of unexpected dark comedy only further undermines attempts at building suspense.
At no point is the viewer under the impression that a noose is tightening around the neck of these characters or we simply don't care very much given that it all builds up too languidly and the characters are too non-descript. The cast tries its best to work with material that is mostly below their talents, but fails to compensate for the film’s slack sense of pacing and script-related issues. At the end of the ride, The Rental has packed its runtime with pointless conversations without saying anything insightful about relationship dynamics, voyeurism or racism. Having failed to generate tension, the final third settles for rote thrills as the film lazily devolves into a by-the-numbers home invasion slasher.
Instead of opting for the easy way out, The Rental could have let its characters live with the knowledge that their coverup has been filmed and an unknown third party could, at any given point, release the footage to ruin their lives. It could have made characters live with the weight of their decision. By trying to have it both ways - being a film in which couples are manipulated by a voyeurist who then makes a third act appearance as a slasher villain - the film comes across as a half-baked effort in need of a rewrite or two.