The resolution to the mystery of “The Rental” tends to spoil the suspenseful thriller that comes before it. It’s generic, as so many horror movies are. What we’re told and shown that’s “really going on?” It’s been done before and done better.
The finale? Seriously unsatisfying.
But rather than give away the game straight-off and earn a “spoiler alert” rep, let’s just say “mumblecore” master Joe Swanberg (“Drinking Buddies,” “Nights and Weekends,” “Happy Christmas”) should at least blush when you confront him over his “story by” credit. A guy named Victor Zarcoff got there first.
The directing debut of Dave Franco, the “Franco brother we’re still allowed to talk about,” is moody and paranoid horror of a non-supernatural variety. The terrors here are “being found out,” being watched and being treated badly by a racist you’ve just met.
The setting is yuppie lush — a cliffside/seaside showplace that two couples decide to rent for a weekend getaway.
The threats there are existential, familial and pharmaceutical. Arabic-looking Mina (Sheila Vand of TV’s “Snowpiercer”) tried to rent it, but it was her tech start-up partner Charlie (Dan Stevens of TV’s “Downton Abbey” and “Legion”) whose credit card got processed.
He’s with Michelle (Alison Brie “GLOW”). She’s taken up with Charlie’s aimless, police-record brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White of TV’s “Shameless”).
Charlie gives up a little too much praise when talking about Mina to Michelle. “She’s the whole package,” he says. Josh “hit the f—–g jackpot” with her.
Duly noted. And once they arrive at the house, a few more personality quirks rear their heads. Mina isn’t shy about confrontation. A rude question of the “racist” guy who rented them the place (Toby Huss) isn’t softened by “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Taylor (Huss) gives as rude as he gets, and his sarcastic “didn’t mean anything by it” is the perfect punchline.
Michelle is there to recreate and hike. Mina and Josh just want to hide their dog from Taylor (“No pets allowed.”), get loose and stay loose.
“So…shall we do some drugs?”
There’s a clockwork compactness to the plot that you can’t help but notice and appreciate. Michelle wants to be fresh the next day’s hike, so she abstains with a promise to imbibe “tomorrow night.” All the bad decisions thhis first evening are made by the other three.
And that sets up the next night, as Brie gets to play semi-insensate and clueless as the previous night’s transgressions and mistakes come home to roost for the now-sober Josh, Charlie and Mina.
“Hey you guys, where’s the Molly?”
She’s wasted, and if drugs contributed to everything that went wrong before, drugs will trigger a lot of day-late/dollar short responses when the rising paranoia turns out to be justified on “the last night of our weekend.”
That’s not a new twist in horror, that “See where drugs’ll get you?” messaging. But damn, seeing “The Beach House” and “The Rental” use very similar settings and this Big Bullet Point in their plotting, back to back, is jarring.
Just say no, already.
The younger Franco doesn’t reinvent the genre or advance it in any way. But horror, as always, proves a nice proof-of-directing-chops test case, and he passes with flying colors. The performances are pitch-perfect, the picture opens with dread and the suspense builds nicely.
Sure, the foreshadowing is too-obvious (dogs make it into screenplays for a reason), the actual menace trite and the ending nothing novel. But “The Rental” is promising enough to put down a deposit on “the other Franco” and his directing future.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexuality
Cast: Dan Stevens, Allison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White and Toby Huss
Credits: Directed by Dave Franco, script by Dave Franco and Joe Swanberg. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:28