Dave Franco is the brother of James Franco (The Disaster Artist, Future World) and a well-known actor in his own right. But, apart from a couple of films near the start of his career, he’s avoided the horror genre. His brother Tom however did play Frog Boy in Basket Case 2. So it was a bit of a shock when it was announced he was making his debut as a director with a horror film, The Rental. Was it a smart move, or should he have stuck to what he knows?
Two couples Mona (Sheila Vand, A Woman Walks Home Alone At Night, The Wave) and Josh (Jeremy Allen White, Rob the Mob), Charlie (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey, Kill Switch) and Michelle (Alison Brie, Community, GLOW). Josh and Charlie are brothers, but nothing like each other. Charlie and Mona are business partners.
They rent a beautiful house on Airbnb for a weekend getaway. The owner Taylor (Toby Huss, In A Valley of Violence, Havenhurst) is racist and creepy as fuck, but the house is beautiful. Michelle has plans for a hike in the morning so she calls it a night early. The other three indulge in the booze, drugs and other pleasures until the wee hours.
This comes back to haunt them the next day. Secrets get revealed and relationships unravel. Then a camera is found hidden in the shower. Someone has been watching them. And they may not stop at mere voyeurism.
Actually, Franco did stick to what he knows. Ninety percent of The Rental is a drama. The kind that I tend to do my best to avoid. Filled with the kind of people I do my best to avoid. About fifteen minutes in, when one of them thinks they’re being witty by referring to Orion’s Belt as Bro-rion’s Belt, I had a really bad feeling. And it doesn’t get better.
Beach House had some of the same issues, but at least it got to the point after the first half-hour. Here it just drones on and on. They find the camera in the shower, stall but because of events of the night before don’t want to go to the cops. And if you think the drugs aren’t the only secret, of course, you’re right. Not that it would be a shock anyway, but The Rental gives one of its secrets away very early and obviously.
Once The Rental finally gets to the actual horror part of the film it’s way too late to salvage it. Another well-telegraphed “shock” brings us to the film’s one actual twist. By then we’re at the hour mark. If Franco and co-writer Joe Swanberg (All The Lights in the Sky, Drinking Buddies) had pulled out the stops in the last act the film might have fallen into the watchable but forgettable category. But it just sort of limps through the last twenty minutes.
Most of the killings are off-screen. And the ones we do see are bloodless where they could, and should, have been shocking. They feel like they were tacked on to the soap opera dramatics. Something to give it a different ending from so many similar films. The fact that The Rental closes on a non-ending just reinforces that feeling.
If you like mumblecore dramas you might enjoy The Rental. But if you watch it expecting a horror film you’re going to be very disappointed.
IFC Midnight will release The Rental to select Drive-Ins, Theatres and On Demand on July 24th. You can check out the film’s website for more details.