A taut throwback to primal horror about long nights spent in strange houses in the middle of nowhere, The Rental (★★★★☆) renovates the old-fashioned genre with knowing post-millennial details. The two attractive L.A. couples getting away for this fateful weekend are sharing an oceanside Airbnb rental, celebrating seed funding for a tech startup, and bringing along an adorable French bulldog and a baggie full of Molly. They mix all the right ingredients for a bitchin’ hipster holiday, but still it all goes to hell.
Business partners Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand), and their respective romantic partners — his girlfriend, Michelle (Alison Brie), and her boyfriend, Josh (Jeremy Allen White) — are off to a rough start from the moment they meet the rental’s creepy caretaker, Taylor (Toby Huss). He’s low-key hostile, and apparently racist, given comments he makes to and about Mina, who’s of Middle Eastern descent. She’s left to ponder the possibility of his racial animus mostly on her own; maybe there’s some other reason that her email request for the rental was rejected, and Charlie’s was almost immediately accepted, Charlie suggests.
Mina’s discomfort adds to the weekend’s building air of tension, and to the film’s potent sense of what triggers paranoia for each character, whether it’s infidelity or inadequacy. The sharpest edge of tension cuts between brothers Charlie and Josh, whose sibling rivalry finds them moving at different speeds, and at different stages of managing adulthood.
Their jovial but contentious relationship feels thoroughly grounded in reality — appropriately enough for the film’s co-writer and director, Dave Franco, famous actor and brother of James. Making his feature filmmaking debut, Franco draws strong performances from his four leads, particularly Vand as the one in this foursome most alert to the red flags signaling danger ahead. Mina’s as wary as a cat even before they discover wireless cameras hidden throughout the house.
Shifting from sibling rivalry and sexual tension to a peeping-tom horror show, The Rental doesn’t miss a beat escalating fear and accusations until the quartet realize a cunning killer lurks in their midst. Propelled by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ effectively ominous score, and tight editing and camerawork, the movie’s final third maintains a heart-pounding pace of scares and suspense that should leave audiences anxiously scanning hotel rooms and rentals for cameras and recording devices on their next several vacations.
The Rental is currently available in select theaters and VOD. For a complete list, visit www.therental.movie.
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