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The Rental

Paranoia Thriller

/ Remi
The Rental cover

Dave Franco, already an established actor in movies like The Disaster Artist, puts on his Hitchcock hat in a directorial debut that can only be described as impressive.

We follow Mina (Sheila Vand) and Michelle (Alison Brie), who with, their partners, Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and Charlie (Dan Stevens), have rented an ocean-front house for the weekend. Upon arrival, things feel off. The host, Taylor (Toby Huss), displays more than a tinge of racist disposition against Mina, and the guests soon find hidden cameras in the showers. Why don’t they report the peeping to the police?

You can find that answer in the first two acts of the ninety-minute film. This hour is primarily dedicated to the characters’ past and the state of their relationships. Charlie has a pattern of cheating, something Josh, with his crushing lack of self-confidence, reveals to Michelle. Is Charlie’s playful banter with Mina just a bit too familiar? Questions are asked, and after a few too many exposition dumps, it feels like The Rental veers too far into shoe-gazing, indie-film territory. That does somewhat unexpectedly pay off during a tense third act, and The Rental might benefit from a second viewing to fully appreciate each piece of the puzzle.

Franco gets a lot of things right in his debut, fronted by a seasoned cast. Stevens — recently seen in the criminally underrated Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga — brings an adequately balanced combination of charm and sleaziness. He’s not a likable protagonist, but he falls into a suitable Hitchcockian performance as things spiral out of control. The same goes for Brie, who, as the only likable character of the group (dog aside), starts unraveling when stories from Charlie’s past is revealed, and the seriousness of their situation sets in.

And Toby Huss? Nobody can up the creep factor as he can. He seems downright gleeful being allowed to dive headfirst into his role. Franco shows no qualms of letting his cast loose.

Visually, The Rental is stylish, and director of photography Christian Sprenger uses the mist and ocean to create an ominous atmosphere. The audience is as much of a voyeur as the Peeping Tom is in paranoia-framed scenes.

It all cumulates in an ending that puts the previous ninety minutes into a new light, without wrapping the story up in a neat package. Franco and co-writer Joe Swanberg have put a compelling little story down on paper, giving even the more cliched elements a suitable panache.

Despite a slightly overlong second act, I can’t find many faults with The Rental. It is well executed from top to bottom and features an intriguing story with an interesting gallery of characters — even the end-credits play into the mix.

Coming soon!

Dave Franco is set to star in a Vanilla Ice biopic. I mean, what can go wrong?

The Trailer

Sleepaway Camp

Sleepaway Camp Watch

/ Remi
Sleepaway Camp cover

Sleepaway Camp is one of those movies that it’s hard to make heads or tails of. Are the production values those of an actual made-at-summer-camp movie? Indubitably. Yet, it’s hard not to admire the infamous twist. And as bottom-of-the-barrel as the acting is, Felissa Rose delivers a performance that truly is solid as the heroine. Sleepaway Camp is as fascinating as it is ridiculous.

After a convoluted setup involving a boating accident, we learn the surviving child, Angela, has moved in with her aunt Martha, who…

Actually, let’s just take a moment to linger at Martha, portrayed by Desiree Gold in a performance I couldn’t even start to explain. To wit…

Martha, looking bonkers

… sometimes a picture really does speak more than a thousand words.

But I digress.

Years after the accident, Martha sends her son and Angela to Camp Arawak, in a decision that only can be described as tone-deaf. With her vacant, expressionless stare, Angela barely speaks and would have benefited more from a couple of months in professional care to deal with her trauma.

But, to camp they go, and soon bodies start dropping.

Sleepaway Camp is a bizarre movie. The first camp scene reveals the camp cook is an outwardly raging child molester, which his co-worker – portrayed by James Earl Jones’s dad, no less – merely considers an amusing quirk. This is a film where the sixteen-year-old counselor giddily can’t wait to have dinner with the sixty year old cigar-chomping camp owner. What writer/director Robert Hiltzik’s state of mind was during development of this piece of cinema is vexing.

The cast of characters is one so over-the-top that the token jock served as Ken Marino’s main source of inspiration in Wet Hot American Summer. I’d even posit that Marino comparatively downplayed the character. That is the pedigree we are dealing with.

It’s all bad, and it’s all wrong, yet I can’t help but love Sleepaway Camp. Not in an ironic or detached manner, but in the same way Hiltzik believes a teenager loves a burgeoning retiree.

Flawed as the script is, it still manages to hide the identity of the murderer until the end, and deep down, there is a good whodunit story in Sleepaway Camp. It keeps you guessing, and while the film doesn’t measure up to the first two Friday the 13th movies, it isn’t any worse than the majority of the rest of them. Sleepaway Camp at least does not feel stale.

And Felissa Rose does stand out, doing a great job as Angela, reminding me somewhat of Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things. Being able to work with a bonkers script like this takes some talent.

Sleepaway Camp is many things, most of them bad while being impossible to take your eyes off.

The sequels

There are three sets of sequels that, to varying degrees, are related to the original. You’ll be excited to learn they will all be covered here!

The Trailer

1BR

Crappy Apartments

/ Remi
1BR cover

Down on her luck, while trying to break into the (presumably) competitive Hollywood costume design racket, Sarah miraculously finds her dream apartment. The tenants are friendly, the price affordable, the space clean. It’s all perfect or, as these movies tend to go, too perfect.

Soon, the honeymoon period starts fading. Not only do the pipes make noises only she can hear, but the mood of her fellow dwellers takes a turn for the worse when they discover she against all covenants smuggled in her cat. Some people are allergic, reads an anonymous note, crassly addressing her as a selfish bitch. The cat’s is similarly harsh, and Sarah learns that her apartment is a cell, and the complex is a cult indoctrination compound.

1BR starts off appropriately eerie, with echoes of Roman Polanski’s The Tenant. The juxtaposition of Sarah’s mental health and the complex’s foreboding dread creates a sense of paranoia that lasts for a good twenty minutes. Then, when the brainwashing starts, the film starts stumbling. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes a drag, and never is it as clever as it wants to be.

The latter is, in many ways, the movie’s downfall. I can forgive Nicole Brydon Bloom’s blasé Sarah – not a bad performance, as much as a forgettable one – and some lapses in logic, but the build to an unsurprising-surprise ending does not help the story’s flow. Early on, we are told the cult is part of a larger organization in a scene I can only assume director David Marmor forgot about. Why else would the twist ending reveal it yet again in an overly dramatic fashion?

Still, there are things to like about 1BR. Taylor Nichols portrays cult leader Jerry with swagger and charisma, and Giles Matthey is a convincing second in command. The movie looks stylish, and camera angles are well-used to convey the early sense of paranoia. The reason why Sarah was picked to become a member – the actual twist – is clever, though strangely downplayed. 1BR can’t quite decide if it wants to play on the cult’s lore or the relationships of those within it. At ninety minutes, it doesn’t get the time to do either successfully.

It’s not an essential watch, 1BR, but it has its moments if you like a good cult yarn. If you read between the lines, you can make out a good Polanski-esque storyline. The Tenant aside, there is also a bit of Rosemary’s Baby tossed into the mix.

Plus, if having to socialize with your neighbors comes off as a chore, you might just find an extra ounce of creepiness within the movie’s confines.

The Trailer

Nancy Drew

Teenage Sleuths

/ Remi

Nancy Drew is back, this time in the gen-x-pandering, yet millennial-friendly guise the CW is so fond of. (See Riverdale.)

And this time, things have changed.

Nancy Drew, official posterNancy's shady boyfriend, NickNancy's new friend, Bess
Never, not once, does a character not stare pensively off screen in this show.

After a long, fruitful career as a teenage sleuth, Nancy is retired, living the tail end of her teenage years as a high-school student and a server at a local diner. That’s right, this new, gritty take on the 1960s literary icon features a haggard, burnt-out investigator.

But I’ll be damned if she doesn’t get pulled back in for just one last case.

What is the nightmare from her childhood all about? Who killed Tiffany Hudson? Why are a) all the inhabitants of Horseshoe Bay haunted by J-Horror ghosts, and b) why does nobody talk about it? These are baffling mysteries indeed.

Starring as our eponymous hero is Kennedy McMann, who, like the rest of the teens, looks just old enough to be ready to seriously invest in a retirement plan. Impressively, she looks senior to her TV dad, Scott Wolf.

So pretty much everything about Nancy Drew is ridiculous. It is also downright mesmerizing. You’d have to be clinically dead not to find this show entertaining. And credit where credit is due – the cast does a laudable job with scripts delivered by the creators of Gossip Girl. McMann is downright good as Nancy herself.

Make tonight a Nancy Drew night. It’s streaming on HBO Max.

Bonus! The top ten sleuths of our time

  1. Jessica Fletcher
  2. Nan Bobbsey
  3. Frank Hardy
  4. Nancy Drew
  5. Timmy (the dog from The Famous Five)
  6. Freddie Bobbsey
  7. Jonathan Chase (Manimal)
  8. Laura Holt (Remington Steele)
  9. Joe Hardy
  10. Automan

Fun fact about Automan-actor Chuck Wagner: He has served as Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus’s ringmaster since 2005. A true renaissance man.