The Rental Review: An Ecstasy Fueled Vacation Invasion

It was weird watching Dave Franco’s The Rental a few weeks after seeing Shudder’s The Beach House. Both films start off in similar fashion.

The main characters resort to going to a beach get-away for the weekend to either escape the hectic routine of everyday life or to celebrate landing their first big time gig.

While on this vacation getaway, drugs are introduced in some capacity to increase their chances of having a good time but it naturally only makes things worse.

In The Rental, Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand, Argo) are partners wanting to have a celebratory weekend before diving in to a bunch of rewarding work. They decide to go to an expensive beach getaway with their significant others; Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and Mina’s boyfriend and Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White, Shameless).

Things are bizarre and uncomfortable from the start. Most of it comes down to Charlie being semi-fresh out of prison and his tendency to get in to trouble.

But the booker and caretaker, Taylor (Toby Huss, Halloween (2018)) gives off creepy and stalker-like vibes from the moment the two couples arrive.

Horrific choices under the influence of ecstasy lead to a nightmarish weekend chock full of avoiding the authorities and rising tension between what was otherwise two loving couples and four close friends beforehand.

With a story developed by Dave Franco, Mike Demski (Uncle Nick, Attack of the Show!), and Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) and a screenplay by Franco and Swanberg, The Rental is the feature film debut of Franco as a screenwriter and director.

Franco seems to have been inspired by a ton of horror classics from various time periods in order to create The Rental. The drive to their vacation get-away feels like homage to the opening of The Shining.

Dan Stevens, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White in The Rental.

The finale of the film violates that sacred feeling of always being safe in your home. This inescapable feeling of dread that makes it feel like someone is always lurking in the shadows watching and waiting for you to reveal a weakness.

A violation of the on-screen character’s safe place or sanctuary reminds you of The Strangers. What lies beyond that thick, rolling fog that swallows everything at night seems like a direct reference to John Carpenter’s The Fog or a vague nod to Stephen King’s The Mist.

While the couples have a strong hatred for Taylor as soon as he’s introduced, much of the conflict in The Rental comes internally. Everything seems relatively fine until ecstasy enters the picture. Then everyone starts screwing up and giving grand performances of their failures.

A love triangle emerges, something strange is discovered underneath the house, Josh’s dog disappears, and sketchy pasts bubble to the surface.

Taylor may be unpleasant, but he isn’t the cause of the turmoil in the film. Taylor is just the trigger on what was already an itchy finger on a loaded gun.

Dan Stevens and Alison Brie in The Rental.

After one terrible occurrence, it’s as if bad choices and even worse actions continue to snowball into absolute chaos that is impossible to return from. The two couples take the ecstasy at different times; Charlie, Mina, and Josh take it their first night there while Michelle takes it the following night.

The second night is when everything goes nuclear. The odd thing is that The Rental blatantly goes out of its way to have Mina, the only character currently on drugs at the time, be the voice of reason. The decision is one that goes against the typical horror formula even if it doesn’t really go anywhere.

Dave Franco’s dive into the horror genre isn’t totally original. Two couples retreat to the beach away from most of civilization as their relationships begin to crumble as something more grandiose happens behind the scenes. However, Franco is able to piece it all together fairly eloquently. The Rental never tries to be anything it isn’t and it does what it sets out to do fairly well.

There’s an intriguing aura throughout the film’s reasonable less than 90-minute runtime. The Rental’s best moments are in its last few minutes that lead up to the end credits. There’s little to no dialogue and the images and video that are shown make your skin crawl with uneasiness. We are always being watched by someone it’s just that someone is sometimes closer than we realize.

Sheila Vand as Mina.

In typical horror fashion though, the characters in The Rental make a ton of the worst decisions imaginable. The problem is they know they’re being stupid in the film and yet they still do it for even dumber reasons to cover up that original reason.

Jeremy Allen White doesn’t do anything performance-wise that he hasn’t already done on Shameless. He is a victim of typecasting here, but his talent of having a short fuse and an explosive temper is utilized reasonably.

The real gem of the cast is Alison Brie. You can almost pinpoint the exact moment the mental capacity of her character breaks and she just loses all sense of her composure.

The Verdict

The Rental has a simple concept with a basic execution and a tendency to wear its inspirations on its sleeve, but it’s also enjoyable for what it is. This is horror popcorn entertainment. It doesn’t really take any unexpected turns, but seeing how far these characters are willing to go to screw up their lives to an  even greater degree is enjoyable in itself. It feels like the film was made quickly on a moderately reasonable budget. It’s an easy-to-digest horror film that feels like it would be a good appetizer for a double feature where the second film is heavier, longer, and deeper.

The Rental is now available to rent through most streaming services for $6.99. It is currently available on sale for $4.99 in SD or HD on Amazon Prime.

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