by Hope Madden
Dave Franco has made a movie. James Franco’s younger, less creepy brother has been a welcome, smiling face in films since his teens. Directing his first feature, he sidesteps the more obvious choice of a comedy – given his background – and instead delivers a tense horror about jealousy, deteriorating relationships, and the dangers of Airbnb.
Dan Stevens stars as Charlie, handsome and successful older brother of Josh (Jeremy Allen White). As if Josh doesn’t have enough to live up to, his beloved and brilliant girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand) is Charlie’s work partner and the two just really click.
Together Mina and Charlie land a big deal. To celebrate, they and their significant others—Josh, plus Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie, Franco’s real life wife)—rent a gorgeous, off the grid place for a weekend getaway.
If you’re thinking this is an incredibly common premise jazzed up with a couple of impressive actors, you are correct. But there’s a lot to be said for a good cast.
All four convey a lived-in chemistry that gives the relationship conflicts more resonance. Brie and White, in particular, deliver believable warmth as big sister-in-law/little brother-in-law. Both are dealing with some jealousy, each lending support and guidance to the other. Secondary characters in indie horror are rarely given this kind of opportunity to breathe, but drawing the audience into these relationships benefits the tensions Franco is working to create.
Stevens and Vand work wonders as the morally conflicted central characters. Vand (exquisite in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night—see it!) blends righteous indignation with guilty conscience. This helps her build believable motives for what could, in lesser hands, feel like conveniently poor decision making.
Liberal guilt, entitlement, questionable morality and selfishness rarely come packaged as sympathetically as Charlie, but Stevens is a solid character actor and here he creates a nicely complex character.
Rounding out the small ensemble, the always welcome Toby Huss also finds layers in a character that could easily have been one note.
So, performances are solid and Franco delivers a decent sleight of hand by Act 3. The film feels imbalanced by then, though, as if it wasn’t until the 11th hour that Franco decided this was a horror movie. There’s enough suffering in the final reel to clarify The Rental’s genre, but that doesn’t mean it entirely works.