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With complex characters and stellar performances, Dave Franco’s directorial debut is a surprisingly tense and thrilling film that’s well worth the rental.

Anyone who’s traveled extensively has hopefully learned a few basic rules of staying safe and healthy, including searching the beds for bedbugs and doing a once-over of the room for anything suspicious. Many may even know the trick of how to hold a finger up to a mirror to determine if it’s two-way glass. More often than not, nothing nefarious turns up, and our fears may seem more paranoid than based on any real threat.

But what if those fears turned out to be very real? What if you discovered that someone had really been watching you the entire time?

This is the terrifying scenario explored in Dave Franco’s feature film directorial debut, the horror/thriller film The Rental from IFC Films. Inspired by Franco’s own paranoia about the concept of home-sharing, the film focuses on two couples attending a weekend getaway, only to discover someone may be spying on their most intimate and private moments.

Despite being a first-time filmmaker, Franco seems like a pro behind the camera.

He masterfully builds tension from the first frame and maintains it until the last seconds of the film. Even the ending credits sent a chill down my spine.

Before the traditional horror film elements are introduced, friction between the characters and tense relationship drama create a concise framework that immediately draws in the attention of the audience. Another major point of tension is derived from the discrimination experienced by Mina Mohammadi (Sheila Vand, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), a Persian-American woman, as well as the complacent attitude of her friends who avoid conflict for the sake of comfort.

Most of the characters exist within a moral grey area that makes them feel real, results in believable conflict, and invests the audience in their plight and in wanting them to survive their ordeal.

Going into this film, it’s easy to think you know exactly what to expect and where the journey will lead. But The Rental does a fantastic job subverting expectations. 

Franco even effectively challenges the popular “final girl” trope in horror films. He skillfully toys with the audience’s expectations, consistently throwing the viewer off course in a way that never allows them to be at ease.

The exceptional cast really shines here, which, along with Vand, includes Dan Stevens (Legion, The Guest), Alison Brie (GLOW, Community), and Jeremy Allen White (Shameless). They effectively bring complex characters to life.

In a post-screener Q&A presented by IFC Films, the cast revealed that Franco helped them prepare for their challenging roles by giving them a list of horror titles to watch. This list included Blue Ruin, Psycho, The Shining, Good Night Mommy, Rosemary’s Baby, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Hereditary.

The homework assignment paid off, as each performance felt genuine and gripping, while remaining grounded within the reality of the film.

Franco has already expressed interest in a sequel for the film, explaining that he may like to go more in-depth with the mythology of the antagonist, as well as the possibility of introducing an international setting. Though the film doesn’t offer much in terms of lore, it would be fascinating to see the origins of the killer, especially if it were executed as well as The Rental.

The Rental is a great film that shouldn’t be missed, especially if you’re a fan of psychological thrillers and slasher flicks. This tense and frightening thriller may help curb some of your quarantine wanderlust.

You can catch The Rental starting this Friday, July 24th, at select drive-in theaters or via multiple streaming platforms. If you watch at home, be sure to follow Franco’s viewing recommendations: see it at night with the lights turned off and the volume high.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies)

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