The Rental (2020) Movie Review – Mediocre Voyeuristic Horror
Two couples on an oceanside getaway grow suspicious that the host of their seemingly perfect rental house may be spying on them. Before long, what should have been a celebratory weekend trip turns into something far more sinister.
Welcome to Knockout Horror. We have covered a lot of Voyeuristic Horror Movies here on Knockout Horror. In fact, we just put together a list of
25 Stalking and Voyeuristic Horror Movies Ranked. One of the movies that came up in that list is the one we will be looking at today as I review The Rental from 2020. This movie is directed by Dave Franco with writing by Franco, Mike Demski and horror veteran Joe Swanberg.
I actually watched this movie ages ago and was supposed to review it. I ended up redoing the layout of the site, though, and kind of forgot all about it. It fits rather neatly into our Voyeurism niche, though, and I think some people will enjoy it. For me, however, it was a fairly mediocre slasher with a confused plot and an incredibly unlikable cast. Let’s take a look.
More Vacation Horror Fun
The Rental follows two couples in their thirties as they head to a vacation home for a weekend of rest and relaxation. What starts as a few days of basking in the sunshine, taking walks and drinking too much. Quickly becomes sinister as it appears someone has placed hidden cameras around the house to spy on the couples. Something which threatens to reveal secrets that could fracture the group right down the middle.
This movie is the directional debut of Dave Franco. Who you may remember as that really annoying character from the last season of scrubs. Or from his much better turn as Greg Sistero in his brother James Franco’s award winning movie The Disaster Artist. Dave Franco has been around the movie and television business for a long time. And it is no surprise that he has managed to secure a well known cast and a substantial budget for what is, otherwise, a rather run of the mill vacation horror.
More 30-Somethings Behaving Badly
As someone who falls into this age group, I find it hard not to cringe when I watch movies like this. I have covered so many damn movies that feature people who should be worrying about mortgages and getting their kids ready for school in the morning. Partying like they are 17 and acting way younger than their age. I get it, people in their 30s, and beyond, party and plenty of people don’t have kids. But if these movies are to be believed then the vast majority of Millennials are choosing popping molly and refusing to accept responsibility for their actions over trying to have stable lives.
This wouldn’t be such a problem but today’s horror is really robbing Gen Z actors of opportunities. I would much rather watch younger people acting like pricks and doing stupid things. Rather than seeing people with a bunch of fine lines and receding hairlines doing their best to seem cool and “with it”.
It is such an exclusively Millennial issue as well. Throughout the 80s and 90s, into the early 2000s, slashers tended to feature casts in their early 20s. Be it Nightmare on Elm Street, starring a 20 year old Heather Langenkamp and 21 year old Johnny Depp. Friday the 13th, featuring a 22 year old Kevin Bacon and 20 year old Adrienne King. Or I Know What You Did Last Summer starring 18 year old Jennifer Love-Hewitt and 23 year old Ryan Phillippe.
All of these movies helped make household names of these actors but it never seems to happen anymore. Instead we get The Resort starring 40 year old Dan Stevens, 40 year old Alison Brie, and young buck of the cast Jeremy White who turned 32 this year. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. If Scream were to be made in 2023. It would star a bunch of 38 year olds that don’t have kids and hang out together an inexplicable amount.
Just a Pretty Average Horror
All ranting aside, The Rental is simply a pretty average horror movie. It features an extremely unlikable cast that will leave you desperately hoping that they finish the movie with a few extra orifices. A plot that pushes a strange relationship drama to keep the story movie forward. A killer that lacks any real motivation and an ending that is both anticlimactic and rather rushed.
The relationship drama here actually seems to take centre stage ahead of everything else. In fact, when the blood starts to spill. It’s hard not to feel as though Franco only did it because he realised that he should probably move away from the interpersonal drama a bit. Given the fact that this is supposed to be a horror movie and all. And so reluctantly put together a loose and poorly fleshed out killer with limited motives.
Doesn’t Know What it Wants to Be
The Rental really does come across as being a little bit confused. A little misguided in what it wants to be. It throws in so many different plot elements and fails to ever really deliver on any of them. Themes of racism, familial tensions, troubled pasts, infidelity and voyeurism all compete chaotically with no one single element being given the deserved attention. It’s a proverbial smorgasbord of themes all fighting for a tiny opportunity to come to the forefront.
The strange thing is, it is actually most comfortable as a drama movie. Managing to build more suspense with its character liaisons and hidden secrets than it does with its under-motivated killer. The relationship drama is, actually, rather captivating. Leading to you being somewhat frustrated when the horror movie elements start to get in the way. That’s really not what you want from a movie like this.
Voyeurism Elements are an Afterthought
The voyeurism elements here are, really, a simple tool used to push the plot forward. Whereas movies like Alone With Her and 13 Cameras really go heavy into the whole spying thing. The only reason for it to exist in The Rental is to create some added tension and give our characters a reason to panic. You don’t feel as though the character’s intimacy is being invaded and the characters are, really, not likable enough for you to care. Don’t expect intriguing moments that reveal deep secrets. The cameras are only there to create more drama.
This is also the case for the slasher elements. The characters, for much of the film, really don’t feel at much risk. In fact, when things really start to ramp up. There is a distinct sense that the horror elements have been shoehorned in and completely rushed. They don’t have any time to marinade or develop. Leading to a very limited sense of tension and no scares at all. There’s a distinct “blink and you will miss it” sense to the kills. Making them feel like they came out of nowhere and leading to them being over before they really began.
Added to this are some moments of complete stupidity. Where characters act in farcical ways that defy explanation, purely to push the story forward. It’s a bit frustrating and represents an inexperienced writer who struggles with well structured plot development. Certain characters act completely inexplicably and it only makes you dislike them more. The Rental is very hard to invest in.
Acting and Direction are Fine
Acting is fine, even if the cast is utterly unlikable. Dan Stevens, as Charlie, does a decent job with his American Accent. Never really slipping up and is convincing throughout. Alison Brie, as Michelle, is one of the more likable members of the cast managing to gain a few laughs here and there. That doesn’t make her character decent, though. She is incredibly annoying in parts. Sheila Vand, as Mina, is fine as is Jeremy White as Josh. It’s a strong collection of performances. As you would expect from a seriously experienced cast that, typically, probably wouldn’t star in movies like this. Franco has managed to pull in some decent talent via his Hollywood connections.
Speaking of Dave Franco, his direction is decent and he works well with cinematographer Christian Sprenger to put together a very nice looking film. Shots are set up well and he does a good job, in parts, of putting together a tense, moody, atmosphere. Continuity is fairly decent and I appreciate Franco’s tendency to linger on a shot for a significant amount of time. Making excellent use of space and tracking characters as they move rather than switching angles. He clearly understands how to get the most out of a wide lens. Something which is normally a trait of more experienced directors. He could use a little work on the pacing front, though. The Rental feels rushed and hectic at times.
Final Thoughts and Score
The Rental is, simply, a rather average slasher movie with some shoehorned in Voyeuristic elements and a lot of relationship drama. The cast is completely and utterly unlikable making it very difficult to invest in their predicament. And the horror element feels rushed and haphazard at best. There is some decent interpersonal drama here and Franco’s competent direction, as well as the decent cast, make the movie feel far from low budget. But it just doesn’t offer much to latch onto. It’s rushed and just a bit on the average side of life. Don’t take my word on it, though. A lot of people do like this movie and find it to be an undemanding, enjoyable, watch. Give it a try and see what you think.
If you want more movies like this but, potentially, a lot better. Why not check out our list of 25 Stalking and Voyeuristic Horror Movies Ranked – Someone Is Always Watching!? There’s loads of movies there that follow a similar formula to this with many of them being genuinely great. Thanks for reading. Why not stick around? Check out our horror movie reviews, our horror movie ending explained articles and more horror lists.