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The Rental is Dave Franco’s debut as both director and screenwriter of a feature film. Making a successful horror movie was never an easy task, but I believe it’s even harder nowadays. This genre has evolved in so many ways by delving into distinct subgenres and helping new directors deliver brilliant horror stories. Of course, every year has dozens of awful horror films, and most of the “Worst Movies of the Year” lists possess more than one horror flick. However, I firmly defend horror is reaching audiences like never before, and I genuinely believe that it’s a matter of time until a Best Picture award goes to this genre.
So, is The Rental one of the better ones or not so much? Well, it’s as “okay” as it can be. I find it hard to heavily criticize a film that doesn’t really give me much to actually analyze. It’s a straightforward story with barely any complexity. Four characters with clear yet generic motivations. Their relationships and how they handle each romantic bond is surprisingly the most interesting aspect of the movie. Still, besides being somewhat predictable, it seems more captivating than what it truly is because one particular screenplay element fails to deliver a compelling narrative.
The main (and honestly, only) horror component of the story is no more than a hollow attempt at creating a franchise. Now, there’s nothing wrong with teasing an overarching story in the first film of a saga, but if this tease plays the entire horror role, then the only feeling Franco is getting from the audience is disappointment. Viewers might look forward to jumpscares and creepy sequences, but if the questions the movie makes are left unanswered, chances are people will dislike the ambiguity.
I’d be interested in a sequel because this first film creates a really intriguing mystery that I’d love to see developed and eventually solved. However, this comes at the cost of sacrificing the latter flick since it basically uses the whole runtime to introduce the overarching character/element. The Rental follows the usual “friends in a vacation house where things are not what they seem” formula, which doesn’t really set up Franco as a horror director to follow closely. He shows a bit of skill, the uneasy atmosphere is well-established, and he lets the actors play off their dialogues without too many cuts, something I deeply enjoy.
Technically, it’s quite good, to be honest. It’s a very dark movie, but I could see everything clearly, which is usually a problem in this type of horror film. The third act might be partially a letdown, but its execution holds the necessary tension and suspense. Dan Stevens and Sheila Vand deliver two great performances, showing remarkable chemistry. Alison Brie and Jeremy Allen White are also good, but the previous duo steals the spotlight. I wish it had more horror-like sequences, even though I appreciate the focus on the character’s relationships and dynamics.
All in all, The Rental is a clear attempt at creating a new horror franchise, and honestly, it partially works. If “success” means getting the viewers interested in a sequel, then mission accomplished. However, sacrificing the first movie of a possible saga to just introduce its main horror element doesn’t quite work as Dave Franco might have thought. In his directorial debut, Franco focuses on the characters and their relationships, which are undoubtedly the most captivating aspects of the film, also thanks to a fantastic cast. Despite some neat technical attributes, the formulaic screenplay and its predictable developments are far from being entertaining enough to hold my attention. The dozens of unanswered questions definitely leave an open door to produce a genuinely compelling sequel, but this first installment will always feel more like a prologue than an actual movie. If you’re just looking for a simple horror flick to spend your extra time, this one won’t surprise you, but it might be a good, inoffensive Saturday night pick.