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With: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss
Written by: Dave Franco, Joe Swanberg, based on a story by Dave Franco, Joe Swanberg, Mike Demski
Directed by: Dave Franco
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexuality
Running Time: 88
Date: 07/24/2020

The Rental (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

House Squall

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A feature directing debut by Dave Franco, this sharp, engrossing horror-thriller gets by with no supernatural elements, relying entirely on scarily believable human behavior and intrusive technology.

In The Rental, Charlie (Dan Stevens) runs a successful tech company, with his partner Mina (Sheila Vand); Mina is dating Charlie's brother, Josh (Jeremy Allen White), who has a troubled past, but is trying to do better. To celebrate a milestone at work, Charlie and Mina decide to rent a vacation home for the weekend, for the three of them, plus Charlie's wife, Michelle (Alison Brie). Trouble comes right away when the Mina is turned down for the rental, but Charlie is approved, suggesting racism from manager Taylor (Toby Huss).

But the foursome tries to have a good time anyway, by taking some ecstasy. Michelle goes to bed early, and Josh passes out, leaving Charlie and Mina alone. They unwisely act on a drug-fueled impulse and make love. In the morning, they agree to forget all about it, but are horrified to discover cameras planted all around the house that certainly captured the act. How can they get out of this mess?

Working from a screenplay co-written by Franco, Joe Swanberg, and Mike Demski, Franco creates tension right away in The Rental with his human tableaus. Even the (sometimes dark) humor is designed to throw things off-balance. The very first shot shows Charlie and Mina leaning together over a computer monitor in such a familiar, comfortable way, that we may immediately assume that they're a couple.

Everything in the movie is staged in a way that creates tension and dislocation, from Taylor's underlying racism, and his sly way of deflecting it, to Michelle's being out-of-step with the other three. Michelle is the only one interested in going on a hike, and she takes ecstasy alone on Saturday night, becoming a kind of quirky comic relief and also a catalyst for more disaster. (Brie and Franco are a married couple, and he has given her a rich role that plays to her talents.)

Additionally, Franco manages to comment upon technology in a way that's subtle and not overbearing. He does not go easy on his characters, and finds an ending that clicks into place with a true shudder. In essence, The Rental is a must-see thriller, smart and unsettling.

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