What happens when Airbnb becomes Nightmarebnb? This thesis in question is what drives The Rental, co-written and directed by Dave Franco in his first turn behind the camera.
With the help of Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies), who has achieved his own acclaim for realistic and often improvised screenwriting, Franco takes viewers into an eerie weekend getaway that seems off center from the start.
The film opens to introduce Mina (Sheila Vand) and Charlie (Dan Stevens), business partners with a subtextual romantic chemistry that’s so on the nose it’s impossible to miss. When Mina’s boyfriend Josh (Jeremy Allen White), who is revealed to be Charlie’s brother, arrives to pick Mina up, the three discuss an exciting spot for a potential weekend away to relax and reset.
Discussion turns to action and the group, along with Charlie’s girlfriend Michelle (Alison Brie) decide the oceanside home is the perfect spot. After Middle Eastern Mina is denied her rental inquiry, Charlie’s request is accepted. Much to her indignant disdain, the four journey to their rental.
Upon arrival, Mina confronts the renter for his prejudice, which he outright denies. This unsettling interaction sets the tone for the weekend, with questionable choices and unexplained mysteries plaguing the four guests and their rental grounds.
The film’s subversion lays in its focus on the characters rather than the suspense that will quickly overpower their stay. The group’s performances aren’t phenomenal, but they are convincing enough to keep viewers mostly invested in the story and their decisions, however ill-advised. Vand is the clear standout.
The interpersonal drama between the two couples takes the driver’s seat for the first two acts, with the rushed finale coming in only in the film’s final few sequences.
The focus of The Rental isn’t necessarily a bad creative decision, but in execution it merges together what appear to be two very thematically different stories into one turbulent, sporadically thrilling ride. While the tension between the characters is compelling enough, the dots don’t all connect by the film’s finish.
The Rental often comes across as disjointed, especially with an ending so abrupt it’s a missed opportunity after so much slow burn build up. The climax comes and goes without much thought or struggle, leaving viewers to wonder how invested in their stories these individuals really were.
More successfully executed is the visual nuance shown in the film. Director of Photography Christian Sprenger’s cinematography is beautiful in its pervasion of mystery throughout the film. From the title card to the close of The Rental, the visuals elevate even the most mundane scenes.
This is clearest in a foggy sequence in the third act. Sprenger pays homage to classic thrashers like The Wolfman and Friday the 13th for the conclusion. It’s a shame the script gave him so little to work with in the final act.
Is The Rental worth the time? If for nothing else, it is for the occasionally compelling performances and astonishing visuals that make an otherwise trite story pop. More important, though, is the takeaway to DEFINITELY vet the location before renting your next Airbnb.