Four selfish 20-somethings go away for the weekend and get picked off one by one in this uninspired and insipid horror film, now streaming on Prime Video. Here’s critic Travis Johnson’s review.
Slasher films of the ‘80s may have conditioned us to cheer for the villain but, look, there’s a line, okay? And The Rental, the feature directorial debut of actor Dave Franco, exists on the far side of it. It’s about an hour before the bodies start to hit the floor, and by that time you’ll be so eager for Franco’s insufferable characters to cop a hatchet to the head that every kill is as satisfying as the first bowel movement of the morning.
Franco’s film puts four successful, selfish 20-somethings in a holiday home for the weekend and, after far too long letting us to get to know and loathe them, has an unseen assailant pick them off one by one. In that way, it’s more giallo than ‘80s slasher—Freddie Krueger and company had personality or, failing that, iconography—think Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. Here, although a few clues are dropped, the killer is anonymous, leaving us with only our lead characters to try to identify with. And frankly, if you do see something of yourself in this facile foursome, it might be time to take stock of your life.
Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand) are business partners celebrating a workplace victory. Sheila is dating Josh (Jeremy Allen White), Charlie’s brother. Charlie is married to Michelle (Alison Brie). Things get off to a bad start when Mina suspects their holiday host (Toby Huss) knocked back her reservation because of her Iranian name, but accepted Charlie’s. Wine gets drunk, drugs get taken, infidelity indulged in. Then a hidden camera is discovered in the bathroom, which almost kicks off what passes for a plot here.
To be fair, Franco has some technical chops and if they were in service of a better script we might find something to enjoy here. Instead we’re left to count the minutes until these goddamn people meet their hopefully grisly demise. Even in that department, we’re short-changed. The kills, when they come, are quite chaste, so even gorehounds whose key criterion is a surfeit of blood and guts will be disappointed.
So, who’s to blame here? Not the cast, whose other work demonstrates they’re capable of much better. Perhaps not even Franco, who at least shows some flair for direction when the movie is actually, you know, doing something. At a guess—and it might be uncharitable but indulge me—I’d finger credited co-writer and producer Joe Swanberg, a key figure of the mumblecore movement. One of the tenets of mumblecore is an emphasis on improvised dialogue and naturalistic performances, which would certainly explain why we spend two thirds of The Rental hanging out with these self-absorbed yutzes before anything remotely interesting happens. Clearly anything so artificial and restrictive as a plot is surplus to requirements for The Rental; unfortunately, so are interesting characters and engaging themes.
Let’s not mess around: I frickin’ hate this film. At best, at absolute best, it’s an anthology TV episode painfully stretched to 88 minutes, hoping that its cast can do what its script and concept can’t. It’s lazy, uninspired and insipid. I’m just grateful that Flicks have done away with star ratings; otherwise I’d be sitting here all day trying to divide by zero to produce a number that accurately reflects my complete disdain for this film.