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“The Rental” Is A Confident And Wildly Effective Directorial Debut For Dave Franco

Whenever an actor steps behind the camera, I’m always fascinated to see what they choose that first directorial project to be. Especially when they’re writing as well as directing, there’s a big-time curiosity factor about what kind of a movie they opt to craft. In the case of Dave Franco, a well-known actor, mostly for comedic work, he’s opted to make a gnarly bit of horror for his first time out. It may seem like an odd mixture, but boy is he up to the task. Thoroughly confident and wildly effective, this is the sort of unsettling fright flick that a veteran of the genre would have crafted. Kudos to Franco for pulling it off, and later on this week, you’ll be able to see for yourself when IFC puts it out on VOD. It’s one not to miss.

The film is a horror offering, as you might imagine. The premise is deceptively simple, and intentionally so, following a pair of couples who rent an extravagant vacation home for what should be a celebratory weekend of fun. Of course, being genre fare, nothing is as simple as that. Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand) are co-workers planning to take their significant others on a weekend get-away. Charlie’s married to Michelle (Alison Brie), while his brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) is dating Mina. The quartet plans to relax at a rental home for the weekend, though as soon as they arrive, Mina is unsettled by the racist leanings of Taylor (Toby Huss), who hands them the keys and takes care of the home for his brother. As more disturbing things reveal themselves, the group begins to suspect Taylor of more nefarious predilections. Then, it gets dark. Franco directs a screenplay he co-wrote with Joe Swanberg, based on a story the two came up with alongside Mike Demski. Connie Wellman rounds out the cast, with Christian Sprenger providing the cinematography. Composing the score is the duo of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.

Dave Franco not just handles the writing and directing well, but he cast the flick impeccably. Spouse Alison Brie is reliably strong, while Dan Stevens, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White are rock-solid as well. Brie has perhaps the most conventional role in the quartet, but she’s such a talented actress, she breathes unique life into it and makes this a character you’re always interested in seeing more of. Stevens has a similar situation, though he follows a somewhat more tried and true horror protagonist path. Vand and White, however, make the case that they deserve far more roles in features. The former is quiet and compelling, while the latter is a powder keg. Franco assembled the right group here, that’s for sure.

As far as directorial debuts go, there’s an assured and confident nature to this that really helps pull things over the finish line. Franco sets it all up in such a way that you’d be forgiven for not knowing that it’s horror, just judging by viewing a scene out of context. The terror comes from the tension inherent in knowing it’s a scary movie, as well as the occasional disturbing images. Then, towards the end, when he gets down to the terrifying aspect of it all, he doesn’t hold back. Franco’s understanding of the genre and ability to manipulate it to his liking is quite impressive. Franco, along with his co-writer, the strong filmmaker in his own right Joe Swanberg, know just how to tell this particular story, and it shows.

The Rental is a wholly unique horror effort that will chill you to your core. There’s a lot of restraint here, though when there’s violence, it’s brutal, shocking, and best of all, never when you expect it. The surprises here are another aspect of what sets this apart. Franco and Swanberg play with what the genre traditionally gives you, leading to a ton of enjoyment for those of us who feel like we’ve seen it all. Take it from me…you haven’t seen this.

While this may not have the awards aspirations that other elevated horror offerings in recent years have had, it definitely is an example of the genre being done well. It often zigs when another horror flick might otherwise have zagged, it presents Franco as a potentially exciting new talent in the genre, and gives four interesting actors really intriguing roles. So, even if it doesn’t get the prestige attention of Get Out, Hereditary, Midsommar, and Us (not to focus on Ari Aster and Jordan Peele), it still finds its own unique voice.

This weekend, The Rental is going to creep the hell out of you when it hits VOD. An inspired directorial debut from Dave Franco does for AirBnB what Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho did for showers. That’s no small praise, obviously, but it’s apt (even if this isn’t necessarily on the level of Hitchcock’s classic). Franco has an exciting career behind the camera ahead of him if he chooses to continue it, and I certainly hope that he does. Genre fans should definitely give this one a shot. The Rental will chill you to your core – you’ll never look at a rental home the same way again!

Be sure to check out The Rental, available on VOD this Friday!

(Photos courtesy of IFC Films)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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