The Rental, whilst looking very interesting from the plot summary and trailer, failed to deliver and was rather anti-climactic. Offered as a horror mystery, the horror aspect of this didn’t arrive until a point so late in the film, that it was basically pointless. It would have been far better to have avoided the genre juggling and kept it as a drama thriller.
The Rental is about two couples who rent a cliff-side cottage by the ocean, to celebrate a recent business success. Things start off fairly tense with accusations of racism towards the owner of this rental property and his tendency to visit unexpectedly. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg, as soon after settling in, they find a hidden camera in the bathroom. Rather than calling the cops however, the dangerous secrets amongst these two couples make them ignore this creepy invasion of their privacy, which leads to a series of events that puts them on the path to peril.
Even though I was not impressed by the overall arc of this film, it does not mean that The Rental was a bad film. It is just that it tries to do too much and ends up creating a very messy ending that feels rather jarring, in comparison to the preceding events. With a good cast list including Alison Brie and Dan Stevens, there is nothing to complain about with the acting, especially given that a large portion of The Rental is character driven. This is definitely the better side of the film, making the lies and deceit the impetus that pushes this story in dangerous directions for all of them.
However, due to their actions, it is hard to feel sympathetic to at least two of the characters. You could argue that they are in fact the real villains of this horror mystery, more so than the masked assailant that appears later. And in a way, in trying to avoid the consequences of their actions, they are responsible for all of the horror that befalls them at the end. It is a bed they have made and quite willingly lie in.
Though this isn’t a roaring success in my opinion, Dave Franco, the director, did a great job in creating a moody and claustrophobic atmosphere. There is almost an 80s feel about The Rental, with its ominous shots of the woods, that I could totally get onboard with. Regardless of its flaws, you would be hard-pressed to find fault in its visuals or cinematography. Considering that this is Franco’s first directorial debut, he has done a fine job. But perhaps the story-telling should be left to a more experienced writer.
The familiar scenario of an isolated rental home/cabin in the woods, while atmospherically delivered, is perhaps a little too over-used and comes off as a bit uninspired, and the storyline of the film doesn’t quite do enough to shake off this feeling. Though the focus on the characters backgrounds and relationships is an interesting dynamic that is sometimes overlooked in horror films, it doesn’t go anywhere. There is no new message, point of view, or perspective in The Rental that offers anything of originality. It all feels a bit shallow and pointless at the end.
Now let’s talk about the horror, which is, as I stated, where this all really falls apart. There is a bit of an attempt to do a sleight of hand, creating an obvious scapegoat for the nefarious spying, but it lacks any subtlety to really make you believe it for one second. The antagonist that is stalking them is rather hollow, with there being no real discernable motivation behind this evil person. Sometimes that can work, but with the heavy focus on characters in The Rental, it makes you think that the same careful attention would be taken with the villain as well. Just any old masked assailant that you could find any other rote horror movie feels cheap, and jars against the established feel of the film.
Nevertheless, like with other home invasion films such as The Strangers, you don’t necessarily need to create a rich backstory, if you can make that up with some gruesome deaths. The actual deaths in The Rental are rather tame, and mostly happen off-screen, making you feel rather cheated by it all. And there is a rather tepid attempt at showing how this villain continues to terrorize unsuspecting renters, but by that point you do not really care. Like those usual tropes such as the virgin final girl, any new victims could escape this villain’s evil clutches by just being open and honest with each other. Or in fact, have no secrets in the first place, making the masked figure impotent.
The Rental is a decent first directorial debut attempt by Dave Franco, however he lacks the cohesiveness to pull this whole film together. The horror in this movie sadly seems like a last minute addition that ruins the careful and ominous atmospheric build-up in the first two thirds of its run time.