Two couples escape to a rented retreat on the coast, only to grow suspicious that they are being spied on by their somewhat strange and racist host. Well-kept secrets are unearthed and exposed and each of the four friends sees each other in a new light. Someone is watching them, but should anyone watch the film? Marking actor Dave Franco’s first stab at directing, The Rental isn’t exactly cutting edge in terms of plot, subject matter or form, and relies almost entirely on the well-established conventions of the suspense/horror genre.
Franco has evidently studied the artform and seems comfortable with his craft – perhaps that’s the main problem. The film is beautifully shot and makes use of a suitably atmospheric score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. There are moments of genuine tension and the occasional jump-shock against a backdrop of alluring visuals. Had the director and co-writer left his comfort zone and not relied so heavily on the formulaic, there are also the seeds of a good story. Sadly they never come to fruition.
Dan Stevens delivers an engaging enough performance and shares strong chemistry with Sheila Vand. The characters are all flawed and somewhat unlikable, but gradually viewers find themselves invested, especially when an unfortunate incident forces them to work together. The arrival of a mysterious man is momentarily shocking, and Franco shifts gear into more recognisable horror territory, but in doing so he puts the brakes on his main characters’ journeys. By failing to establish the antagonist early enough or provide them with a motive for their actions, Franco renders them two-dimensional and subsequently far less effective than he intends. In fact, the main monster of the piece (there are a few) is so much a carbon copy of so many previous familiar incarnations that he is rendered almost farcical.
Too much time is wasted in the first act, which contains a great deal of exposition and relies far too heavily on stilted dialogue as opposed to visual action. The suspense and fear factor the audience is craving arrives too late and the initial racial undertones are never expanded on or explored. Instead, the action meanders through a domestic drama with a hint of horror that fails to fully ignite any interest.
All of the ingredients are on the table and yet the end result is undercooked, under-seasoned and underwhelming. More often than not the film is treading water rather than new ground. Hopefully Franco will remove the stabilisers on his next directorial outing and offer a more daring and memorable ride.
The Rental is released digitally on demand on 22nd January 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Rental here: