I Watched: The Rental

The Rental is the directorial horror film debut of Dave Franco, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Swanberg, and it stars Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, and Toby Huss. The film follows two couples who go on an oceanside getaway by renting an Airbnb vacation home and grow suspicious that their host may be spying on them.

Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand) are business partners who are looking to celebrate a deal their company just signed that stands to make them a ton of money and the movie opens with them scrolling through online photos of the Airbnb they’re planning to book for a romantic weekend getaway with their significant others, his wife, Michelle (Alison Brie) and her boyfriend, Josh (Jeremy Allen White) who happens to be Charlie’s brother.

The Airbnb is situated near the ocean and is surrounded by woods, making it the ideal location, the only fly in the ointment is when Mina first attempted to book the place using her Arabic surname, she was rejected but when Charlie called an hour later, his booking was accepted. When they meet their host (Toby Huss) and Mina airs her suspicions, the host neither confirms nor denies the racist allegation and simply suggests they refer to their contract cancellation policy if they’re unhappy. Mina balks at handing their hard-earned money over to the host but decides to take the high road and not let his ignorance spoil their celebratory weekend.

And, as is the case when a small group of friends drug up and let their guard down in close quarters, relationships are explored, fidelities are tested, and well-kept secrets are exposed, forcing the friends to see each other in a whole new light. Oh, and they discover hidden cameras (not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer).

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews (first off, bless you) you’ll know I run light on spoilers so that’s all the plot I’m giving away but the film was released on VOD today so if you’re really interested you can find out what happens next for yourself.

So, would I recommend The Rental? I’m on the fence with this one. Not because it’s a bad film, quite the opposite, in fact. Dave Franco has put together a competent film which, unlike its horror contemporaries, doesn’t need to rely on a supernatural element to bring the fear. My quibbles are mainly that I’m not a huge fan of mumblecore or what I call fly-on-the-wall cinema, the character development and their relationships to one another tread very familiar ground, and the premise (although dipping its big toe in the mini-genre pool of Airbnb horror) is far from original or innovative. But the thing that really stuck in my craw was when Mina made her stand against the host’s apparent racism and her friends didn’t back her play. There was a missed opportunity to add a level of tension between the friends. After all, the racism you ignore is the racism you allow. Mina is such an outspoken character and letting the matter be swept under the rug rather than given space to breathe just seemed disingenuous to me.

Having said that, the acting all around is solid, the film doesn’t deviate from its course in order to serve up twist after twist in an attempt to confusticate you into believing you just viewed a work of daring genius, and the tension builds so slowly that when it shifts gears into full horror mode, you’ll find yourself fully invested. The ending? I’m of two minds about that but discussing it would put me in spoiler territory, so I’ll just keep those thoughts to myself. I sort of appreciated the epilogue, though.

I think sort of sums up my opinion of the film. I sort of liked it and sort of didn’t but it’s not the worst film, horror or otherwise, that I’ve seen during lockdown. Judge for yourself and let me know your thoughts.

Ciao til next now.