Starring: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie and Sheila Vand
Character drama? Paranoid thriller? Backwoods slasher? Why not all three?
A planned weekend getaway have Charlie, his wife Michelle, his ex-convict brother Josh and Josh's girlfriend Mina renting a beautiful remote oceanside house from its caretaker, Taylor, to celebrate a professional breakthrough and it's mostly nothing but good times of long strolls down at a beach, getting drunk that night while stargazing and hitting up on ecstasy.
The stay becomes a lot more troubling, however, when Mina and Charlie got a tad too intimate with one another behind their partners' backs and ended up having sex. Much to their horror later that morning, while Josh and Michelle are out on a friendly hike around the woods, Mina and Charlie discover hidden cameras in the house which likely have recorded that night's steamy affair. Believing the house's caretaker have been spying on them, the two decided to keep this on the low for the moment until they figure out what to do, which gets intensely complicated further when Michelle calls in Taylor to fix a broken hot tub.
From there, death and misfortune follow as our hapless couples as an argument leads to Taylor getting beaten down to an inch of his life, all the meantime Mina and Charlie do their best to keep their little secret away from their partners, completely unaware of the true nature of their situation and how, by the end of it, none of them may be even be alive to see daybreak...
A directorial debut of 21 Jump Street (2012) actor Dave Franco, The Rental (2020) sees itself largely as a mumblecore thriller first and a slasher second, spending a sizeable chunk of the story focusing on its paranoia aspect as infidelity gets threatened to be exposed and we see the lengths that some people would go to keep it in the shadows. A solid round of talents made this an engrossing watch as actors Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand and Jeremy Allen White play their roles as four dysfunctional adults with a decent light of realism and sympathy, thus resulting to a rather riveting character study within shattering relationships that would eventually escalates to something dire and chaotic.
The film's transition to horror is admittedly fluid, though the difference in tone is noticeable; while the movie is mostly grounded in practicality, a play on Hitchcockian themes as four ordinary people suddenly find themselves responsible for an arresting crime, it suddenly threw a curveball at us by evolving into what is practically a slasher film wherein the killer continues to pit our casts against one another before going for the kill, all the while our hapless victims continue to do their best to keep the affair hidden. The focus in this development can gets muddled at times as the plot kinda went all over here and the murders are hardly creative, though I will say that creep factor went on full effect here and the killer at least earn some points for their creepy get-up and their interestingly chilling modus operandi of their little set. It's a neat little surprise that delivers some cheeky, tropey horror fun, all the while still building up a strong sense of tension as the plot proceeds.
All in all, The Rental (2020) benefits from a mostly clever writing of naturalistic scenes and a slick production value, starting out as a pressure-cooker story that switches to a backwoods horror type with a bit of flair and trope. It certainly could have done more around the slasher elements, but there's a sense of clarity in the plot overall and its beautifully shot from beginning to end. There's definitely a bit of tameness in this flick, but if you don't mind a bit of modesty in your horror flicks, then this is an okay title to seek and enjoy.
1 male smothered to death
1 female found murdered
1 male brained to death with a hammer
1 male gets a hammer claw to the head
1 female falls off a cliff