*. I’ve written before about the moral calculus that occurs when dealing with the characters in dead-teenager movies. Basically the people we meet are just jerks who we don’t mind seeing killed off, but you don’t want this to be taken so far that you’re cheering for the villain, or have no one you want to see survive.
*. The Rental isn’t quite a dead-teenager movie because the characters are all a bit older, but it has many of the same basic plot ingredients and it suffers from a failure of the moral calculus because it doesn’t take long after meeting our four main characters that we hate all of them. Or I hated all of them. Perhaps people younger than I am might find something relatable or endearing about them. But I wanted them to, if not die, at least shut up. And I felt this way five minutes into the movie. I know because I wrote the time down.
*. Meet the meat. Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Sheila Vand (Mina) are business partners launching a new app or some such thing and need to take a bit of time off. They rent a luxurious coastal home for a weekend to share with their significant others: Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and Josh (Jeremy Allen White), Michelle’s boyfriend and Charlie’s brother. So Charlie and Josh are bros, but because they really are brothers they’re actually bro-bros. This is a joke the movie makes in the early going.
*. A barely concealed message, in this and other films, is that the only people who matter in the new economy are jerks launching a tech start-up. Everyone else is either a “loving and supportive” trophy girlfriend or loser boyfriend. Of course, since Charlie and Mila are alpha jerks they screw around. Meanwhile, as young people in love who have seen a few too many movies about young people in love they all talk funny.
*. Example: “I’m constantly terrified she’s gonna leave me. . . . She’s just so fucking smart and talented. And, you know, I just want to be better for her, and I want to be able to challenge and inspire her, but I feel like she doesn’t even need that from me, she’s already fulfilled in that way.” A cri de cœur from Josh that is answered by Michelle: “Trust me, I hear everything you’re saying, and I think what she needs from you is not for you to occupy the same space as her work partner.” This is ironic foreshadowing, but is it really how young people talk these days? You can see why I just wanted them to shut up. Which was long before this bit of dialogue on the beach occurs, or even before the first bro-bro bomb gets dropped.
*. Another annoying thing about these kids (as I’m old enough to call them) is their sense of, yes, entitlement. Do they kill the innocent Taylor? Well, yeah, but he’s “a racist piece of shit” so he had it coming to him. Then they have to cover up for Josh because who wants him to go to jail “for the rest of his life.” As if! Manslaughter at worst. He’d be out in five years. But for these people five years is a life sentence.
*. Dave Franco’s debut effort as director. He’s married to Alison Brie. I don’t think he’s very invested in the horror genre, but, as it so often has, horror provided a cheap and relatively lucrative entry point. Wes Craven didn’t set out to be a horror director either. The only problem here is that I didn’t get the sense that Franco’s heart was really in it. He seems more interested in the awful couples stuff, and the movie only really turns into a horror flick abruptly in its final act.
*. I did like that final act, though it seems to have turned off a lot of people. It is abrupt, brutal, and grim. There are also some decent twists. I smiled at how Josh was expecting a control room beneath the house, because weren’t we all? That’s a great bait-and-switch. If only the kids had watched some more splatter films instead of talky rom-coms they’d have known enough not to split up so they can all get hunted down separately. Don’t they know the rules? Well, maybe Scream (1996) came out before they were born.
*. Unfortunately, all of the psycho-killer stuff does seem tacked on. It’s not just the splitting up that fits the bill of the dead-teenager idiot plot. Why is Josh running around trying to find Charlie after he learns that Charlie has been screwing Mina behind Josh’s back? Doesn’t he have some slightly more pressing issues to deal with, like a crazed stalker? And he knows that Charlie left already to go and find Michelle, so why is he looking for him in the house?
*. There was one fun moment, for me, when Mina goes rummaging through some shelves of puzzles to find the surveillance equipment and pulls out a box of the puzzle “Lost in a Jigsaw.” As fate would have it, I’d been working on that puzzle the very morning of the day I watched this movie! It’s a great puzzle, but difficult. I’ll admit I cheated a bit on it at the end.
*. Franco wanted an open ending to allow for the possibility of a sequel. I don’t see where a sequel would be anything but more of the same Airbnb horror, though more of the same is not necessarily a strike against a horror franchise. But, released in the plague year, I don’t know if it did well enough on home platforms to justify a new gang of housemates. Plus there wouldn’t be any mystery in a follow-up, as we’d know the Man was out there with his hammer and mask. Which is not saying I wouldn’t watch another one of these, only that I wouldn’t have my hopes up too high.