Despite its Well-Worn Formula ‘The Rental’ is a Tight and Paranoia Inducing Thriller

Charlie (Dan Stevens), Mina (Sheila Vand) and Josh (Jeremy Allen White) are standing on a cliffside guarded by a wooden fence. They are all looking down with concern. We cannot see the cliff drop or what they are looking at. Its a dark and misty night and all three of them are wearing jumpers and hoodies to keep warm.
IFC Films

In his directorial debut, Dave Franco proves that sometimes the key to a good horror is simplicity. In its straightforward slasher plot, The Rental (with its even more straightforward name) sees two couples take a weekend vacation to a rented luxury beach house with a shifty owner.

Michelle (Alison Brie) and Charlie (Dan Stevens) manage to book the high-roofed seaside home after Mina’s (Sheila Vand) request was denied first. As a woman with a Muslim-sounding name she believes that house owner Taylor (Toby Huss) discriminated against her, placing an already established tension under the vacation before both couples even arrive. Mina’s boyfriend Josh (Jeremy Allen White) is apprehensive, he thinks she might be over-reacting about the denied booking— he is more concerned that Charlie is Mina’s work colleague and is far more interesting than he is. He isn’t very happy that the pair spend so much time together, but Michelle tries to reassure him that they are just friends.

Franco’s film starts off slowly, with a lot of time spent with the couples establishing their dynamics. They mull around the grand beach house spending time in the hot tub and taking some recreational drugs; which is of course a recipe for disaster in any vacation horror scenario. After a drug-fuelled first night, Mina discovers what she believes to be a camera in the shower, immediately fuelling her suspicion that Taylor must certainly be a racist, perverted psychopath. But to explain this theory to the group she would have to reveal one of her own secrets.

Michelle (Alison Brie) stands in a pale blue sweatshirt and baggy navy cardigan in a forest, alone. She is bathed in the red light of a car brake light, you can only just make out the outlines of trees amongst the mist.
IFC Films

The Rental treads very familiar territory and doesn’t particularly do anything new with its premise: secrets between friends prevent them from getting to the bottom of a much larger problem, beloved pet goes missing, drugs used as an excuse to dismiss a character’s theories and so on. But Franco’s skill might not lay in originality here but instead misdirecting his audience with numerous plausible outcomes that would all adhere to slasher conventions. The greatest success of all is that you’re never given the satisfaction to predict the ending based upon your prior slasher knowledge. The Rentals‘ finale—and even its chilling credits sequence— are made even more sinister by Franco’s disregard for a neatly wrapped-up ending.

Franco’s decision to minimise jump scares in favour of fast-moving moments of terror that cut out before you’d have a chance to edit in ominous shrieking jump music is perhaps the best thing on display here, letting your imagination fill in the blanks. Despite its familiar set-up, the film does tap into a current social norm—Airbnb style rentals— that hasn’t really been explored in horror yet. These rental services, whether its people’s actual homes, rooms or purposely purchased for rental properties are completely unregulated: whose home are you staying in? What’s in the house? Who is watching you? Franco’s film will certainly make you think twice about your next Airbnb booking.

The Rental is a killer thriller with no frills or fancy. Although it treads well-worn grounds its stripped-down story of a sadistic murderer manages to rouse a sense of paranoia even throughout its credits.

The Rental will be available in select cinemas and VOD from July 24th

by Chloe Leeson

Chloë (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here

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