The Rental (2020)
★ / ★★★★
Dave Franco has been in the movie business for nearly a decade a half, but one sits down with a movie like “The Rental,” which he directs (and co-writes with Joe Swanberg), and feel no passion emanating from it. Memorable directorial debuts tend to inspire conversation because passionate filmmakers tend to throw everything but the kitchen sink into their projects due to the possibility that they may not get another opportunity to helm a second feature film. This thriller, which involves two couples who decide to rent a seaside house which unbeknownst to them is teeming with hidden cameras, is barely alive. It is so boring at times that the dog in the movie checked out in the middle of it. I wish I did, too.
Early on we are subjected to dull, one-dimensional dialogue. From the moment we lay eyes on business partners Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand), their attraction to one another is like a punch to the face—no subtlety, no tease, no intrigue. Both have partners waiting at home: Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and Mina’s boyfriend Josh (Jeremy Allen White) who is Charlie’s brother, an ex-con. Those experienced with dime a dozen mumblecore pictures that began in the early 2000s will know the precise trajectory of the film: a whole lot of circular talk that eventually derails in time for salacious revelations. However, this is supposed to be a thriller.
Franco’s picture is bankrupt of suspense, thrills, and inspired jolts. The only time the movie becomes somewhat alive is when the host named Taylor, played by Toby Huss, makes an appearance. Taylor is a racist prick and proud of it. When confronted by Mina, a woman of Middle Eastern descent, as to why he had rejected her application to rent the house, which she submitted an hour before Charlie, a white man, sent his application (which, needless to say, was accepted), his response—or non-response—is so matter-of-fact that it is the first time in the picture when we feel there is a true character on screen. Taylor may be despicable but at least he isn’t boring.
For a thriller, one that involves recording and observing other people going on about their business, there is a lack of inspiration. The most obvious would have been to take Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and make it modern, alter its perspective, or both. Instead, creativity is nowhere to be found. Franco employs the camera as is instead of a device to tell a story.
When dialogue is exchanged between two people, for instance, it simply sits on one spot. It offers no perspective, not a hint of insight or suggestion that perhaps words employed are hiding true meanings or intentions—which would be apt considering that there is sexual tension between Mina and Charlie even when their partners are mere feet away. I felt as though there is neither brain nor concrete plans when it comes to how certain scenes ought be executed. Its blasé nature comes across as lazy.
Even when violence finally erupts—predictably, during the last fifteen minutes—there remains a deadness. Characters receive a hammer to the head, they fall down the stairs, they get into an auto accident—shots are flat no matter the occasion. When the final girl is literally in the hands of the killer, there is no tension. We simply wish for the movie to be over.
I felt as though Franco learned nothing from the directors he worked with. Why did he feel compelled to tell this story? What about it spoke to him personally? Is this meant to be a one-time joke? I ask these questions because the work is devoid of personality. Imagine if another film were financed—one with a good script and an unknown director with a real hunger to prove himself or herself—instead of this drivel. This stinks of privilege and it shows, too.