It is amazing how deeply the film industry hates the gig economy. Most ride-share drivers you see in movies are creeps, but online bnb hosts are depicted as predatory criminals in a malevolent league of their own. Such seems to be the case again, but at least the execution is stylishly eerie throughout Dave Franco’s feature directorial debut, The Rental, which releases tomorrow on VOD and at select drive-ins.
Charlie and Mina have finally scored a major infusion of capital for their hipster start-up (doing whatever), so to celebrate, they book a weekend getaway for themselves and their respective romantic partners. You know, someplace coastal and isolated. It is a tight-knit group, since Mina is involved with Charlie’s underachieving loser brother, Josh. In contrast, Michelle is a straight-arrow type (albeit one who is not opposed to a little recreational MDMA use), but she still gets along better with Josh than Charlie does.
Things are a little awkward when the couples meet the renter, Taylor, because he initially declined Mina’s booking (presumably for unenlightened reasons), before accepting Charlie. He also has an unfortunate habit of saying things that can be taken the wrong way, or maybe reveal too much. Nevertheless, three of them get high and party the night away after the exhausted Michelle turns in early, but when they wake up, they start to notice some unsettling things around the property.
The Rental was co-written and co-produced by Joe Swanberg, so it makes sense it is aesthetically similar to some of his genre related films. Despite following a narrative very much like that of 14 Cameras and Welcome Home, The Rental is a stylish slow-burn that holds viewers transfixed. In terms of vibe and visceral impact, it recalls Hallam & Horvath’s unfairly underrated Entrance.
It also features unusually strong cast for a weekend-revelry-gone-astray horror movie. Dan Stevens (Downton’s Cousin Matthew) and Allison Brie both transcend their genre archetypes as the caddish Charlie and respectably middle-class Michelle. Sheila Vand is terrific as Mina, even though it is hard to believe she is involved with a zero like Josh. Her scenes with Toby Huss (as Taylor the landlord) are played perfectly on both sides, kicking up the general sense of unease, while keeping nagging doubts percolating in the back of viewers’ heads.
We have seen evil online bnb’s before, but what really stands out is the softly sinister look and vibe Franco and cinematographer Christian Sprenger realize. It brings to mind John Carpenter’s classic collaborations with Dean Cundey, which is high praise indeed. Recommended for horror fans who can appreciate the skilled execution, The Rental opens tomorrow (7/24) at the Warwick (NY) Drive-In and releases on VOD platforms.