The Rental (2020)

Rates: * * *

Why Did I Watch It? Alison Brie stars in a trashy slasher film: YES

Cast, crew, etc

Trailer

Two couples take off for a weekend away. Their destination: a fancy air-b-and-b rental on a remote stretch of coast. The two guys are brothers; the elder, Charlie, married and successful, looks down on younger sibling Josh, who has been in jail and now drives part time for Lyft. Charlie also has a thing for Josh’s girlfriend, Mina. Add a bag of drugs and a hottub, and you have a recipe for trouble.

Dave Franco’s first film as director is a stripped back homage to the slasher films of an earlier era. The setup is one of THE setups in cinema; we’re talking not just ‘Friday the 13th’ but ‘Ten Little Indians’. Put some characters in an isolated location, strand them, and then have them picked off one at a time, by some unseen nasty. But this film is not aiming for originality, and it has some nice touches.

The characters are well drawn and have surprising depth for such an economical film. The co-writer, with Franco, is Joe Swanberg, and you can feel his influence; the mumblecore alumnist is a master at establishing believable, everyday characters with a handful of lines. The brief run time (note to other film makers: copy this approach) and droll, witty banter are also recognisable trademarks from Swanberg’s other work.

Having such a strong foundation allows the film to create considerable tension before anything overtly horrific happens. The brothers bicker, and both go behind each other’s back; Charlie sleeping with Mina, Josh spilling the beans on Charlie’s history of infidelity to his wife. As tensions rise, the big empty house starts to feel ominous, the surrounding forest hostile. At this point I was kinda hoping that the film might just double down on this, and play out as a psychological melodrama, a la early Polanski.

But maybe Franco was wise not to try too much, first time out.

In any case, in the second half a masked killer joins the fray, and the bodies quickly pile up. And while this is well done, and there are a couple of good scares, for me the tension went right out of it. It is fun to watch a genre exercise that knows the tropes, and playfully runs through them, but the final reel of this one is a little too perfunctory. Although I did like that there was no final girl, and the coda does sound an interesting note about all of the things in the gig economy we take for granted.

A modest movie, but well executed. It’ll be interesting to see what D. Franco does next.

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