If you cannot do something new, then you should strive to do it well. This summarizes the appeal of THE RENTAL exactly. The film is not especially innovative, following the tried and true formula of “friends visit secluded location and horror ensues,” but it fully leans into the genre and executes each step to perfection.
THE RENTAL is the directorial debut of Dave Franco and is co-written by Franco and Joe Swanberg. The film boasts an impressive cast featuring Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, Jeremy Allen White, and Sheila Vand.
In THE RENTAL, two couples on a seaside getaway have their weekend go from perfect to sinister. Secrets are revealed, the owner of their idyllic rental may be up to no good, and they learn that something is keeping an unnerving eye on them. Time is running out and increasingly shocking circumstances have the four friends seeing each other in a whole new light.
THE RENTAL boasts an incredibly effective ensemble and the film is defined by their fantastic performances. Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White are all dynamic and appealing talents, in their own right, and it elevates the film significantly. The characters of THE RENTAL are well-written and instantly charming when brought to life by these performers. Where other horror films usually suffer from characters that feel expendable, THE RENTAL comes with stakes and investment built-in with these actors.
It takes awhile for THE RENTAL to get going, but that’s a huge part of why the film works. Instead of feeling bogged down by its slow and easy pace, the time is used wisely to establish the complex relationships that will come into play and to lull the audience into a false sense of security alongside the characters. As I mentioned previously, this is a beat by beat horror film. The audience knows that the hammer is going to drop… the tension is not knowing exactly when.
Truly, THE RENTAL is an excellent and thoughtful piece of writing. The plot is simple and formulaic, which means that the meat of the script is in small cues and subtle ways of playing with expectation. The real joy of watching the film is looking back on scenes and seeing how villains were set up or pardoned with the smallest detail of the dialogue. It keeps even the most seasoned horror fan on their toes and unsure of what to expect from the film.
The ending of the film isn’t especially satisfying or neatly tied off in a bow. It speaks to futility. Our surprise villain gets away with it. We know nothing about him or his motivation. We only know that he will do this again, will likely get away with it again. It’s all part of the fun and the dread and allows the film to linger for a few moments after the credits have rolled.
THE RENTAL is very much a summer escape. It’s not pretentious or overly complex, but confidently aware of what it is and focused on bringing its best. The cast is phenomenal, the tone perfectly eerie, and the story light enough to be casually enjoyed. As summer horror films go, THE RENTAL is an effective distraction.
THE RENTAL is now available to own on Blu-ray from IFC Midnight and Scream Factory. The release also includes special features such as a behind-the-scenes featurette and the theatrical trailer.