It’s not every day that a movie bores me to tears in its first fifteen minutes, so in some regard, I suppose The Rental is unlike anything you’ll see this year. The question is, does it get less boring? Given its premise, it certainly should: four friends rent a lavish vacation home to host their drug-fueled getaway, but after one of them discovers hidden cameras in the showers, it becomes clear that something drastic is amiss—and then their vacation spirals into good ol’ fashioned murder avoidance. It sounds like the setup to an archetypal slasher film, but The Rental takes itself too seriously for something that fun.
The movie’s introduction, as you may remember, is astoundingly boring, even as it moves potentially interesting pieces into place. The four friends consist of two couples, the men of which are brothers: Charlie (Dan Stevens) is the wealthy, successful one; Josh (Jeremy Allen White) is the screwup. Charlie is married to the doting and energetic Michelle (Alison Brie), and Josh is dating the brilliant Mina (Sheila Vand), who just so happens to be Charlie’s (very close) business partner. You can probably see where that love triangle is going. The brother-against-brother angle is noteworthy—especially because this is Dave Franco’s feature debut as a writer/director—but any connection to the real Franco dynamic is either indiscernible or absent. In its place is an attempt at naturalistic dialogue (mumblecore darling Joe Swanberg is credited as a co-writer) that mostly comes off as maladroit. If you heard people talking like these characters, you’d assume they were aliens doing their darndest to replicate human speech.
After the definitely-not-lizard-people arrive at their rental home, more wrenches are thrown into the mix: Josh brought a dog even though it wasn’t allowed, the man renting out the home is discernibly racist, the hot tub is too small for Mina and Charlie to leave room for Jesus. The first hour or so of The Rental plays like a character drama, but one so dry that every herring turns red. The movie keeps acting like it’s going to take its relationships in appealing directions, but it becomes increasingly clear that the only practical purpose they serve is keeping the characters inside the property when things go wrong. You can practically taste the lack of inspiration in the story planning: “they won’t leave the house because they have unfinished romantic business”; “he’ll rush headlong into an obvious trap because he likes her”. Scintillating stuff.
The Rental’s cardinal sin is that it remains stupefyingly dull when the so-called horror kicks in. A masked figure starts hunting the protagonists around the rental, its murderous intent implied by its dark clothing and love of shadowy corners. Franco displays absolutely zero understanding of the genre’s visual language: no shot is scary, no scene is suspenseful, no act of violence is impactful—even hammers to heads land without so much as a squelch. The first two acts were a waste of time, but at least you could assume they were building to something. The third act is a waste of time too? Alas.
And then—spoilers here, if you care—The Rental has the audacity to end on the “reveal” that the killer has nothing to do with any of the characters or the movie’s previous events. What’s the point? It’s a non-ending. The most constructive thing I can say to the talented artists involved is “try again”.