‘The Rental’ review: Dave Franco’s so-so stab at a ‘Halloween’-style slasher

Alison Brie stars in her husband's directorial debut, an inauthentic cabin-in-the-woods thriller

Remember holidays with friends? The Rental wants to make sure we never book another Airbnb again, even when we’re allowed to. Dave Franco (21 Jump Street, Bad Neighbours, little brother of James) makes his directorial debut with a nasty little indie co-written with Joe Swanberg (Netflix‘s Easy) – part tightly wrought drama, part predictable slasher, it’s a patchy but fun horror that makes great use of a stellar cast and a single set.

Charlie (Dan Stevens) is married to Michelle (Alison Brie) while having an affair with his business partner, Mina (Sheila Vand, Argo and Snowpiercer), who also happens to be going out with his brother, Josh (Shameless‘ Jeremy Allen White). In other words, they’re all tangled up enough already before they decide to spend the weekend together in a beach house with a hot tub and a load of MDMA.

Things start getting complicated as soon as they turn up at the rental property and meet the owner (Toby Huss from GLOW and Dickinson) – with casual racism and mysterious locked doors quickly turning to full-blown panic when Charlie discovers a hidden camera in the shower. To make things worse, Charlie notices it while he’s in there having sex with Mina, and the pair decide not to call the police in case they reveal their dirty secret to Michelle and Josh.

Tension rises as the drugs run out, old relationship issues get dredged up, and Mr AirBnb starts getting creepier (any time a dog goes missing in a horror movie, you know things are about to get gnarly…), but the film waits until the third act to go totally bonkers with accidental deaths, secret control rooms and a giant, bald albino wielding a claw hammer.

The Rental
‘The Rental’ is streaming on Prime Video now. Credit: Amazon Prime Video

The Rental would have made a great chamber piece without anything eventful happening at all – Stevens, Brie, Vand and White are all at their best when they’re dancing awkwardly around their sticky relationships (and dancing awkwardly around the living room) instead of running and screaming through the woods. A beautiful washed-out colour palette and the rolling sea fog of the Pacific Northwest soaks everything in more than enough dread a long time before the bloodletting starts, and the way the film plays with real holiday home paranoia would have hit home harder without a hammer.

Franco handles the horror well when it finally kicks in, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and the film’s 10-minute stab of Halloween-style thrills feels slightly misplaced after such a smart build-up. By the time the final twist unravels over the end credits, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve just watched two different films awkwardly mashed together. Still, if there’s one lesson to be learned here, it’s check the shower head in your next holiday home before you get undressed.

Details

  • Director: Dave Franco
  • Starring: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand
  • Release date: January 21 (Amazon Prime Video)
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