Horror movies absolutely love isolated locations. Stick a group of people in the woods, in a house by the ocean, at a summer camp, or any other out-of-the-way place, and it increases their chances of being terrorized and/or killed exponentially. The latest to use the tried-and-true tactic is The Rental.
The film follows two couples — Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Alison Brie), and Mina (Sheila Vand) and Josh (Jeremy Allen White) — who decide to rent an extravagant beach house on a lark just to get away. Things start out tense after Mina, whose heritage is Middle Eastern, is denied the rental, while Charlie, her white business partner, is granted it with no problem.
The edginess only increases upon their arrival when they encounter Taylor (Toby Huss), the property manager, who makes them feel less-than-welcome. Other things continue to unnerve Charlie and Mina, while Michelle and Josh remain mostly oblivious to anything out of the ordinary.
Written and directed by Dave Franco, Brie’s husband, with a co-writing assist from Joe Swanberg, the film is at once polished and pointless. The set-up for the plot is solid and each of the characters is established well, but it’s as if they came up with the premise and didn’t know what to do with it.
The film cycles through the usual jump scares and creepiness, but there’s very little payoff in the end. Franco is content with doing a slow burn, but when it comes time to deliver the goods, he seems to have very little idea of how to do that. There are some interesting character conflicts, but the closer you examine them, the more the intrigue starts to fall apart.
All of the actors do their level best to make the material work, and the performances are generally the best thing about the movie. Brie is fantastic at turning small moments into something bigger, and she stands out here. Stevens is charming and slimy in equal measures, and he and White make for a good brotherly pair. Vand’s character shows the most strength, and she makes her compelling throughout.
A good horror movie can make even the most well-worn plot devices seem new again, but The Rental never rises above its basic storyline. Franco has done some good stuff as an actor, but his debut feature film barely leaves a mark.