The Rental is the directorial debut feature by writer/director Dave Franco, written along with Joe Swanberg. Two couples rent a home for what should be a celebratory weekend away until suspicions and secrets start to turn things upside down, starring Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White.
This place seems to have good ratings. The Rental's strengths lie in its solid cast and tight runtime, with no moment overstaying its welcome. While it teeters between a somewhat standard relationship drama and a chilling thriller, it finds a balance that works well to drive the story forward effectively with only a few stumbles. All involved do an exceptional job, with Franco's direction only sometimes feeling like something you'd expect from a first-time independent director, and it's as if each role had been written for each actor. The group dynamic works well, providing adequate chemistry for the relationships between the two couples, which serves as a main point of contention. Dan Stevens is as watchable and likable as he ever is, and Sheila Vand does a strong job of keeping her character's thoughts and feelings seen as understandable but not too ridiculous or consuming. Alison Brie and Jeremy Allen White don't quite feel like they're on equal footing with Stevens and Vand, but they contribute to the team exactly as they need to, and equal out the group to be an overall likable bunch to spend the weekend.
Have we stayed here before? The film feels the strongest in the first two-thirds when the relationship development and tension are slowly building. Once it falls into straight thriller territory, things start to get familiar — even if the outcome isn't quite as generic as expected, the overall theme doesn't land until the very last moments. What's even stranger is that the message the filmmaker wants to get across gets masked by a relationship drama and debatably warranted ire around potential racism. It seems so clear what The Rental's storyline is about until it suddenly swerves into something else intriguing, but not equal to the initially presented storyline. The whole thing turns out to have been a massive McGuffin to serve the greater message — since the things that didn't matter, is the stuff that audiences are most likely to be drawn to, so likely, by the time the credits roll, the film will have started to fade from memory.
Unit was clean and mostly as described… Nothing is exciting or noteworthy here, but it's an adequate debut project that delivers an interesting enough premise in a quick enough runtime that it does no harm. There's nothing here that will stick with you, but it's entertaining enough and has its own merits.