“The Rental” was written and directed by James Franco’s talented little brother, Dave Franco, in his feature debut, and that lad can really do the work. It’s a relatively low-budget movie ($16 million) but nonetheless an example of a new genre: the “Airbnb thriller.” This is the increasingly common genre in which a studio rents out a house and makes a scary movie within the confines of a single setting.
This is also an Airbnb-style sort of plot, as two affluent young couples rent a beach house for a weekend getaway. Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Alison Brie) seem like a solid pair, but they bring along Charlie’s insecure brother and his girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand). On night one, the hard drugs come out and Charlie ends up having sex with his brother’s girlfriend. The next day, as the hangovers and guilt kick in, these renters discover a secret camera mounted in the shower head that could’ve recorded the entire affair. When the group confronts the creepy property manager (Toby Huss), the truth starts to come out, and this vacay goes from a merely regrettable bender to a blood-soaked mystery.
Interestingly, Franco, though a great performer himself, resists a cameo. He’s happy to stand behind his work, and his somewhat Ari Aster-inspired screenplay and tone are voyeuristic perfection. He’s a student of the horror genre, and this modest 2020 movie makes him a filmmaker to watch.