The Rental

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Rental
"Despite the lack of surprises, this is a well made, polished film which hits harder than most similar works because it knows when to hold back."

Mina (Sheila Vand) is unsure about the trip from the start. When she tried to book the cliffside vacation house that they all liked, she was told it wasn't available - and yet when her colleague Charlie (Dan Stevens) tried an hour later, suddenly it was. Could it be that that's because he doesn't have an Arabic surname? The others tell her to calm down. It could just have been a mix-up, they say. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt. There's an implied "Don't make us uncomfortable," but sometimes everyone would benefit from being a little more wary.

Mina is dating Charlie's brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), a sweet but deeply disorganised guy who knows fine well that she's out of his league. Charlie and his partner Michelle (Alison Brie) are just happy to see the change it has brought about in him, as he's taking steps to get back into education and do something with his life. The weekend break is supposed to be a celebration of circumstances improving for all of them, and despite Mina's dislike of the caretaker, whom she also considers to be creepy, they're determined to have a good time. The trouble is that Mina and Charlie have been trying to sublimate a mutual attraction for a while, and on that first night together in the hot tub, they have rather more of a good time than they had intended. This puts them in a compromising position, so that when they begin to suspect that something is seriously wrong, they're hesitant to act.

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Viewers who have seen films of this sort before - and let's face it, there are quite a few of them out there - will know that there's no room for hesitation. Little hints of danger are easy to miss (though there are a couple of lines of dialogue that will amuse those in the know) but when the moment comes for the narrative to shift, everything falls neatly into place. What follows is disappointingly routine stuff and the ending, in particular, plays out rather awkwardly, keeping us guessing about one character when we should be focused on another. This aside, however, there's a fair bit to recommend the film.

The success of this formula depends on how well we connect with the characters during the build-up. Decent acting helps with this, as does a script that is considerably more nuanced than many in the genre, helping us to see each of them as a complex individual rather than as heartless or helpless. The pacing is relaxed and natural, inviting us to relax with them as they enjoy their holiday, with only Mina edgy enough to break the spell. Attractive photography helps, presenting the house as if we'd walked into the holiday brochure. This makes for a more effective contrast later, when low light and mist transform the landscape.

Despite the lack of surprises, this is a well made, polished film which hits harder than most similar works because it knows when to hold back. It's a good vehicle for Vand, whose star is rising despite the fact that, for no logical reason, she gets third billing here. Brie is underused but makes her presence felt in later scenes, and White acquits himself well in the most difficult role. This is a first feature for Dave Franco as director and if he's ready to be a little bolder next time, he might make quite an impression.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2020
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The Rental packshot
Two couples rent a vacation home for what should be a celebratory weekend break, but gradually become convinced that somebody is spying on them.

Director: Dave Franco

Writer: Dave Franco, Joe Swanberg

Starring: Alison Brie, Toby Huss, Sheila Vand, Dan Stevens

Year: 2020

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US

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