My Favorite Movies – The Rental (2020)

24 May

By Tanner Smith

The Rental was an honorable mention on my year-end top-20 list…seeing as how I’ve been watching it again and again just shortly after, maybe I should’ve found a spot for it on the list. And in the months that passed, I’ve watched it quite a few more times. I could say, “I’m not even sure it’s that good–I just like it a lot.” But…I do think it’s that good.

“The Rental” was the directorial debut of Dave Franco, who co-wrote the film (with mumblecore pioneer Joe Swanberg) based on his personal paranoia about house-sharing. I hope it was therapeutic for him, but at the same time, I can see some people watching this horror film and thinking twice before renting an Airbnb.

Before the blood hits the fan, “The Rental” works as a nicely-observant comedy-drama about two couples who rent a large remote seaside dwelling for the weekend. The renters are Charlie (Dan Stevens), his business partner Mina (Sheila Vand), his wife Michelle (Alison Brie), and his brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), who is also Mina’s boyfriend. The film does very well at setting up these four main characters as real people with moral dilemmas…especially when they get high on ecstasy on the first night, leading to Mina and Charlie hooking up in the shower.

Well, that was a mistake, wasn’t it. Oh well, it won’t happen again and neither Michelle nor Josh need find out about it. But then Mina discovers there are tiny hidden cameras in the house…including one in that same shower.

I love it when a thriller eases you into the terror. For the first half-hour or so, “The Rental” is an indie dramedy as good as a writer like Swanberg has ever done (maybe even better), and Franco proves to be a solid director and knows to put interesting people at the center of the screen.

But now we’re getting into some tense stuff here. What about these hidden cameras? How many are there? Why are they there? Who put them there? What happens when Mina and Charlie try to figure it out without their significant others knowing their secret? (Btw, that’s why they don’t call the police right away. Priorities, I guess?)

I won’t give away what happens as the characters (as well as the audience) try to find answers to these questions. But I will say it works pretty darn well as a horror film, with lots of surprises and chills to come as things go from relaxing to uncomfortable to downright nightmarish for these people who just wanted to share a relaxing weekend together and have no idea what’s coming for them next.

“The Rental” probably isn’t for everybody, and when answers are revealed, I can see a lot of people turned off by its ability to negate many other parts of the film. But that’s another reason I really like it–it uses an old-fashioned Hitchcockian approach to unraveling this chilling mystery.

I will say this though. The Invisible Man was my favorite horror film of 2020, but there’s one scene in “The Rental” that scared me more than any horror film in 2020–and it happens during the end credits.

What can I say? “The Rental” truly grew on me. I liked it before; I love it now. And I look forward to seeing what director Dave Franco does next.

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