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