Houseshare culture is all the rage for cat and mouse horror pictures. It provides a direct structure, of the known group in the unfamiliar, modernized, and Instagram-ready house. They face a true generational terror — always the visitor, never the homeowner — the façade of comfort and the denial of meaningful upward mobility of their own. This plays out in The Rental, the debut of Dave Franco, the director, where the first part of the film plays as a mumblecore drama about trust and jealousy in the family.
Family relationships crumble on the Oregon Coast. Josh (Jeremy Allen White) is dating Mina (Sheila Vand), a new relationship sparked on account of her working with his brother Charlie (Dan Stevens, every other headline may read, The Guest Returns). Mina and Charlie have their own romantic fling, while Charlie is taken by the oblivious Michelle (Alison Brie).
The story is so by-the-books, it feels redundant to spell it out. We’ve seen this movie in many different incarnations, always to the same result. The Rental does exactly what you think it does and not too much more. The heart of it is truly in its first three-quarters, where it gets into the nitty-gritty of its characters’ relationships.
Ultimately it leads down the same path as dozens of other features of the same definition. It is not only a houseshare thriller but also a plotshare thriller. When we get to the twist (can we even call it that?) all the air is sucked out of the relationship drama. The characters have to face the inability of their twisted web of lies and then the picture is all but done and gutted, but just keeps crawling.
The title, The Rental, feels aspirational. It may earn a rental, under only just the right conditions. There is a formula to all this and it stays painfully close to that. What it does on its own, as a multi-sided relationship drama, is far more interesting than what it achieves as a thriller. Its remarks on the houseshare, rideshare, and girlfriendshare economies are not profound, but are clearly right on time, and lead the plot in some clear-cut, enjoyable ways. It is not always good, nor fun, but there is something here: an inkling for what makes character dramas click. If it fully committed to those relationships and let the character story fulfill itself more naturally, without genre distraction, it may be more than the sum of its parts. Releasing to a brief run at drive-ins (a format we can only endorse in these times), it makes just the right amount of sense. The Rental, as a rental, may not be the most compelling option.