The Rental: Dave Franco’s First Directorial Jump Into Horror

With cinemas around the world struggling to keep the doors open all eyes have turned to drive-in theaters and video-on-demand releases.  As we all know, drive-in theaters have always been the ideal backdrop for awkward first dates, sharing mustard with strangers, and horror movies.  Thanks to recent progress in the VOD world more people are also discovering the joys of watching new releases at home.  Earlier this year, The Wretched and The Relic found success after winning over early drive-in and VOD audiences, proving that even when the entire world is on fire, the horror genre will never die.  If you had asked anyone a few months ago to predict the #1 film at the box office in July, I don’t think you would’ve heard a single person suggest The Rental.  But here we are.  Nobody can predict what 2020 will do next.

I’m a sucker for bad movies, so when I first heard about a modern-day slasher directed by Dave Franco I already knew I was going to be all-in.  I thought, best-case scenario, that it might end up being another Get Out, but more realistically I was hoping that Dave Franco’s time with Tommy Wisseau on the set of The Disaster Artist would set him up for an absolute wreck of a directorial debut.  What we actually got fell somewhere in the middle, which may have been for the best.

The set-up is like hundreds of movies that you have already seen:  two couples on a romantic getaway to a remote location that seems just a little bit too secluded to be safe.  A creepy neighbor that shows up early in the movie and inspires the first sense of danger for the group.  Sexual tensions that slowly build creating both chaos and comedy.  Finally, the ever-crucial stash of drugs to really set things off.

The Rental takes all of the stereotypes from ’80s slashers, amplifies them, modernizes them, and then throws them right back in your face.  Sometimes the nods to specific horror classics were done beautifully, but unfortunately there were a few attempts that didn’t quite land.

I’ll start with the positives.  I immediately felt at home the moment that the movie started rolling.  Everything about the characters reminded me of my favorite parts at the beginning of every ’80s slasher.  A few dumb jokes thrown back and forth, quick flirtatious glances to hint at future tensions, and a few hamfisted lines to really drive home the point that the two leading men are BROTHERS.  I may have laughed out loud at the third use of “bro” within two minutes of dialogue, but at the same time it felt reminiscent of conversations that I may have heard from the back of a van on the way to Camp Crystal Lake.

I absolutely loved that the most intense scenes focused so minimally on the antagonist.  I will never forget the first time that I watched Halloween and saw Michael Myers standing behind hanging laundry.  The Rental certainly doesn’t produce the exact same emotional response, but I would be lying if I said that my heart rate didn’t jump from a few out-of-focus images of a masked man just…lurking.

The climax of the film confused me initially.  Not because of any dense plot points, but because I genuinely couldn’t tell if I was loving every second of what I was watching or if it was all too corny to take seriously.  It all started with a shot of the killer walking slowly after a sprinting Mina (Shelly Vand).  A smile came to my face; it was impossible to ignore the callback to a similarly masked man slowly pursuing his target.  My smile quickly turned to laughter because the following shot shows the killer absolutely booking it with perfect Olympic sprinting form.  Without giving anything away, I will just say that the speed of the character and the time that it takes for him to catch up to Mina doesn’t quite line up very well.

Franco also replaced the classic bag of weed/beer stash trope with ecstasy.  It definitely isn’t wrong to think that audiences in 2020 need something a little more shocking to get them excited anymore, but the film began to feel a little too much like an after school special at this point.  Fortunately, the ecstasy element paved the way for the best moments of Alison Brie’s performance.

Finally, I have to bring up what might be The Rental’s weakest callback to a horror classic.  About halfway through the movie, there is a shower scene that just has to be an allusion to Psycho.  Maybe.  I’ve rewatched the scene a few times now just because I genuinely can’t tell if it’s an absolutely botched attempt to pay homage to the iconic murder scene or if it’s just a strange, out-of-place, almost soap opera-esque sex scene.  There is absolutely no other moment that looks even remotely similar to this bizarre ten seconds of the film.  This was definitely where The Rental got away from me a little bit.  In my opinion, an extremely pivotal point in a plot should not be overshadowed by a strange sex scene that feels more like a fever dream than anything else.

It took me about a day to fully digest the movie.  At this point, I have decided that I like it, and I may even like it better for being a little bit clunky.  None of the classics are perfect.  In reality, a lot of the classics are pretty awful.  But that’s what gives horror movies their charm.  I don’t always want to go to the theater to see a spotless and polished production.  Sometimes I want to go to the theater after six Busch Lights and completely unplug my brain.  

Overall, I feel like The Rental fulfills its purpose as a modern day slasher.  Dave Franco may not have jumped from comedy to horror quite as smoothly as Jordan Peele, but he did produce something that I believe will be remembered fondly by enough horror fans.  Strong box office results in the middle of a pandemic probably means that there is already a cult group of fans making white face masks and getting ready for the Halloween season.  I like to imagine that somewhere there is a group of middle school friends that are absolutely driving their parents insane by purchasing The Rental on VOD repeatedly and falling in love with the horror genre.  Not every horror film needs to be a homerun.  Some horrors just need to be fun, a quick mental escape from the realities of daily life.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see an announcement for The Rental 2 at some point, and assuming that theaters are open again…you can expect to see me in line with an XL bag of popcorn and a glazed look in my eyes as I prepare to sink into what will certainly be another brain jacuzzi in the form of a well-produced but average slasher flick.

ˆThe Rental is now streaming on Amazon.

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