The Rental (R) ★★★

IFC Films

Dave Franco’s writing and directing debut “The Rental” is a psychological horror-thriller that will keep you guessing. You’ll also think twice about renting a home on VRBO or any other apps, especially if the house is in a secluded area. The horror in the film, the customary bloody/slasher type horror, is not much, and that’s just fine with me. My favorite mystery and horror films are those with story-development as in “Parasite,” the building of tension, putting the pieces of a puzzle together, a surprise ending. Yep, all of those elements are found here in “The Rental.”

Writer and director Dave Franco

Franco has made numerous smart choices in constructing his first film, for starters, the character-driven script—followed by casting Allison Brie (Michelle) his talented wife, and Dan Stevens, (Charlie), the English actor ‘The Beast’ from “Beauty and the Beast.” He also garnered notable performances by “Shameless” actor Jeremy Allen White, (Josh) and Sheila Vand, (Mina), of “Argo.” “The Rental” follows two couples as they plan their get-away weekend via an online rental company similar to VRBO—being covertly filmed by the creepy homeowner was not part of their plan. The stunning coastline setting about four hours south of Portland, Oregon, drew them into a gruesome living nightmare.

While viewing the film’s opening, a cozy Charlie and Mina hang on each other in an office checking out a rental house; they could be a couple by appearances. When Josh, Charlie’s brother sashay’s in and kisses Mina hello, as you’d a girlfriend, something is off from the beginning. We soon find out that Charlie is actually married to Michelle. Next, the two couples head off for a weekend get-away to a beautiful house, on a cliff looking down at the ocean—not a characteristic grungy cabin in the woods. Beautiful home, outdoor jazzuci, killer views, what could go wrong.

As in the trailer, when they get to the house, the guy who hands over the keys (Toby Huss) is somewhat of a creep. He’s already proven himself to be a possible racist; he turned down a rental application from Mina, who is Muslim, an hour before accepting Charlie’s. Also, he questions why city slickers would need telescopes by saying they are peeping Toms. Although they pass judgment, wondering why such an upscale house would belong to a hick in a pickup truck.

Again, from the trailer, we learn a secret camera has been installed in the shower, and the tension is wound tighter and tighter. The script is light, but that’s fine as the actors carry their roles with their physical performance, which goes much further in a horror film. The choices in the musical score are spot on, as is the stunning cinematography. Surprisingly great work for a debut film in the technical areas, and as I stated earlier, Franco has many smart filmmaking choices. I look forward to viewing Franco’s next film.

Studio: IFC Films

Check out my interview with Dave Franco: