Dave Franco’s directorial debut is a cautionary tale of sicko high-tech horrors
Starring Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, Jeremy Allen White & Sheila Vand
Directed & co-written by Dave Franco
Who’s watching you?
In this day and age, the answer is more likely than ever to be anyone, with surveillance cameras, drones, doorbell cams and every other kind of doodad capable of peeping into our personal spaces. Spy gadgets are a booming industry. That guy’s ink pen—it’s got a tiny camera in it. So does that smoke alarm, those sunglasses and that clock.
This terrifically tangled little nerve rattler of a horror movie takes that thoroughly modern idea and melds it to some sturdy, old-fashioned ‘80s slasher vibes as it zooms in on two young city couples who decide to haul out of town for a fun weekend getaway.
Snatching up a sweet deal on a lovely seaside vacation cottage rental, Charlie (Dan Stevens) books it for a weekend with his wife, Michelle (Alison Brie), and his little brother, Josh (Jeremy Allen White), and his girlfriend, Mina (Sheila Vand).
But right off the bat, there are signs of trouble, beginning when they arrive and meet the creepy property owner (Toby Huss, recognizable to Reno 911! fans as Big Mike) who gives off racist vibes that unsettle Mina, whose brown skin makes her stand out from her whiter friends.
And all the “bro” jokes and joshing between Charlie and Josh can’t mask the fact that Charlie thinks his little brother—who got kicked out of college and spent time in jail—is a first-class screw-up. Josh, meanwhile, confides to Michelle that he’s just a little bit jealous of all the time her husband spends with Mina; she’s Josh’s girlfriend, but also Charlie’s business partner.
Add a steamy hot tub, some Ecstasy and a couple of flirty indiscretions, and suddenly this friendly little weekend frolic feels like it could be doomed for disaster.
Especially, after one of those indiscretions, they find a hidden camera in the shower—and a dead body ends in the bathtub.
As the movie heads into its super-serious scares, it’s in the capable hands of Dave Franco, who builds on his years of acting experience to now hop behind the camera for this most impressive debut as a director. Franco is probably best known for his comedic film roles in Neighbors and its sequel; the 21 Jump Street franchise; and three Now You See Me flicks, in which he played magician Jack Wilder, a master of misdirection.
He certainly pulls off another misdirecting act in The Rental, taking a story about four more-or-less normal, imperfect but somewhat sensible people, putting them in a not-so-unusual situation, slowly torqueing up the tension—and then ratcheting everything into a full-blown horror show, with a real sicko jaw-dropper at the end.
I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s got a bit of Psycho as well as Friday the 13th coursing through its nasty-fun, fright-night veins, and it not only wants to make you jump, it wants to make you think—about mistrust, how bad decisions lead to more bad decisions, and particularly about the scariness of this modern world, and who might be watching everything you do, anytime, anywhere.
The small ensemble cast has a great pedigree. It’s terrific to see Brie, from TV’s GLOW and Community, get to stretch out in a movie. Stevens further expands his growing resume beyond Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast and the television series Legion. Shameless fans will recognize White as that show’s wastrel son, Lip Gallagher. And Vand’s most recent role is night-car passenger Zarah Ferani on TV’s Snowpiercer.
Franco—who’s been married to Brie since 2017—and his actors create a situation in which we can relate, mostly, to these characters, their flaws and their reactions to something that becomes a perfect storm of isolation, paranoia, lies, frustration and fear—of someone who sees them, but they won’t see until…well, you’ll have to wait, and see for yourselves.
Franco wants us to “see” that people aren’t always who they seem to be, that none of us may be who we want others to think we are, and that perhaps we can’t always trust…well, almost anything.
Especially the showerhead in a vacation rental.
The characters talk, a couple of times, about “peeping toms.” It’s almost a running joke, who’s watching who. Who’s watching you? I guarantee, after sitting through the final minutes of the The Rental, and the very final scene—which may very well leave you breathless—you won’t think it’s so much of a joke.
At select drive-ins and theaters, and On Demand July 24, 2020