Comedic actors getting behind the camera to direct in the horror genre seems to be a growing trend in Hollywood, marked by the successful efforts of Jordan Peele and John Krasinski. Now that pattern continues with Dave Franco's directorial debut, but The Rental doesn't quite measure up. It's a fun watch that smartly opts for a growing sense of dread rather than big scares, and makes good use of its disturbingly imaginable premise, but the slow-building ride ultimately fails to stay on track.
The story follows two couples who book a weekend getaway in a rental house by the ocean, but feel uneasy about the host who lives nearby, and the trip slowly turns sour. The vacationers soon discover that they are being recorded, and are forced to face their own secrets bubbling to the surface.
The couples drama employed here certainly doesn't break any new ground, but it's compelling enough to hold the viewer's attention, and ultimately challenges the characters to make difficult decisions that further escalate their situation in fun ways. The cast is very capable in delivering that drama, featuring TV favorites Alison Brie (Community, Mad Men), Jeremy Allen White (Shameless), alongside Dan Stevens and Sheila Vand.
Franco co-wrote the script with Joe Swanberg, and it cashes in on the ever-present paranoia of surveillance, which is only growing stronger in an age of rapidly advancing technology and popular services that rely so heavily on trusting complete strangers. The movie's strength, especially in comparison to others in the genre, is the way it makes you confront an unsettling possibility that just seems so real. The story plays out as something that feels like it could very well happen to you, and Franco's direction is able to bring that fear to life and achieve the chills he's aiming for.
The film's initially light-handed approach can only take the audience so far before the balloon of rising tension is expected to pop, and so the movie resorts to some cheaper thrills and jumpier scares in its final act. Those quick generic turns, along with the lack of a sizable pay-off to follow, may leave viewers less than satisfied when the credits roll. But at the very least, those viewers will be taking a close look at their Airbnb host's profile before their next rental, and an even closer look at the shower heads once they get there.
The Rental is available to rent or buy on demand now.
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