“Weekend Getaway. Killer Views.” That’s the clever tagline in IFC Films’ latest horror/thriller, The Rental (2020), available with Video On Demand. The Dave Franco-directed film is about adultery, brotherhood, and relationships just as much as it is about two couples who believe the owner of their rental property has sadistic intentions during their stay. Two brothers, Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Josh (Jeremy Allen White) along with their romantic partners Michelle (Allison Brie – Dave Franco’s wife) and Mina (Sheila Vand, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Argo) have arranged for a weekend getaway. These aren’t two ordinary couples; big brother Charlie has a tight-knit relationship with Mina – they’re co-workers. Michelle has a deeply embedded jealousy toward Mina because she steals her husbands time. The arc of Charlie and Josh’s brotherhood starts as a dynamic and evolves into an interesting dichotomy. In his directorial debut, Dave Franco does an incredible job of authentically depicting the differences in relationships; co-workers are often closer to one another than their respective spouses, considering the amount of time colleagues spend together in the workplace versus the inadequate and fleeting moments with their respective families at home.
The opening images of The Rental are cinematic with its demographical setup, but there’s not much of an idea going on to captivate our attention, other than establishing the rental house with magnificent scenery. However, it does question the viewers false assumption of judgment when we see Mina leaning over Charlie’s shoulder as he browses behind the computer for a home to rent on their weekend getaway in celebration. Naturally, one would presume Charlie and Mina are a couple, considering the given circumstances. Then when Josh suddenly walks into the room, we learn about the purpose of the vacation, and come to realize how Josh is Mina’s boyfriend and Charlie’s brother. Immediately, writer/director Dave Franco is waking up the audience with some foreshadowing; nothing is what it seems.
Right off the bat, we’re given a taste of racial tension between Mina – an Iranian/American – and Taylor (Toby Huss) the prejudice Caucasian man who’s renting out the house. Mina is disappointed by how Taylor rejected her initial application, when just moments after, when Charlie applied for it, Taylor quickly accepted. When the two couples arrive to the beautiful lakeside rental house, Mina gets ridiculed with an indirect racial slur from an unexpected inquisition by Taylor. “How did you get mixed up with this family?” Taylor asks, referring to Mina’s darker facial features. Dave Franco likes to keep the camera on Sheila Vand throughout the film with long takes; it’s almost to the point where The Rental becomes Mina’s movie. The subject of Mina’s ethnicity and Taylor’s prejudice behavior toward her is a significant matter in the first act, and Mina’s involvement with the unfolding controversy of the second act plays a key figure in the dramatic irony of the overall story; the audience knows more than the characters they are following. The two couples grow heavily suspicious of Taylor after he’s finished giving them a tour, and when he gawks at them before peeling out onto the road in his pickup truck, they become cautious of his intentions.
Franco photographs landscapes very well from a distance. There’s creative framing in the cinematography; the four walking along the beach, with two in the foreground juxtaposed around the two in the distant background. Josh walks with Michelle, and confides in her as his sister-in-law. At first, it appears as a strange mix of communication when we see Mina and Charlie walk next to each other, adoringly sharing the same space. But it all makes sense after Dave Franco drives this point home, settling it into our minds: co-workers are close to each other since they spend all day together. In life, people typically inhibit two spaces: their home and their workplace. The latter is where we spend most of our time; we live where we work. Charlie and Mina’s dynamic represents this notion perfectly. Often times, people find their soulmates in the workplace, but the flipside to the argument is succumbing to “vicinity attraction”. Just because you see someone everyday, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a compatible mate. Research has shown that it takes approximately 200 hours for two people to become close friends – this has clearly happened between Charlie and Mina; proximity is a trick.
There’s a unique jealousy created between cross-dynamic behind the couples relationships. Michelle is jealous of Mina’s connection with Charlie, and Josh feels Mina might leave him altogether. The concept of brotherhood rivalry is explored with authenticity, considering Dave Franco is the younger brother of Actor/Director James Franco – co-starring together in The Disaster Artist (2017). “Talking from my own experience, in terms of writing these brothers, I think there are elements in the brotherly relationship in the film that are a reflection of how my brother and I were maybe 10 years ago. I think my brother used to look at me as the baby in the family and now he looks at me more like an equal.” Dave Franco revealed this in a phone interview with Newsweek. The controversy that emerges in Charlie and Mina’s relationship becomes a central plot twist, but it’s important to note that The Rental isn’t trying to be like The Intruder (2018), where Dennis Quaid stalks the new owners of his precious house, or like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), where two couples are stalked by a maniac in their seaside city. There is a great mystery that develops behind Taylor, when we learn he’s renting the house out on behalf of his own brother – the actually owner of the property.
The pacing of the film is spot-on as precious screen-time doesn’t go wasted throughout the film’s jam-packed 88-minute running-time that feels like 2 hours. Mike Demski, Joe Swanberg and Dave Franco craft an excellent screenplay filled with subliminal dialogue that isn’t too on-the-nose. It’s obvious that the story is written with great effort to surprise the audience in unpredictable moments, especially the profound ending that will leave your jaw-dropping. The point Dave Franco attempts to make is clear: beware of your AirBnb rental because a romantic weekend getaway could end up going horribly wrong. The Rental has hints of I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and The Intruder (2018), but Writer/Director Dave Franco makes an impressive debut film with contemporary elements surrounding two couples on a weekend getaway who grow suspicious of their rental host’s sadistic intentions. The Rental ends with unanswered questions, which Franco brilliantly leaves up to the imaginations of the audience. All in all…tenants beware of your next AirBnB.
Grade: A- | 90% | 3 ½ Stars | Excellent