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What’s Up at the Movies: We Review “The Rental”

Early responses to The Rental, the directorial debut of actor Dave Franco, have been interestingly divided. While movies often do better with general audiences than with critics, jaded as they are from seeing formulas endlessly redeployed, this one has inspired the opposite reaction. That might be the expectation for more experimental, arthouse films, but The Rental, with its recognizable cast, straightforward story, and accessible storytelling, doesn’t fit that profile. So, what is it about Franco’s film that appeals to the critic but frustrates the average moviegoer? I see it more as an issue of expectation than of taste, one that I am hopefully in a position to correct: don’t sit down to watch this expecting an out-and-out horror film, or you’ll be disappointed by what is actually some pretty clever genre-bending.

Adding modern specificity to a classic story structure, The Rental sees two couples book an Airbnb on the California coastline for a much-needed weekend getaway, only to have things go horribly wrong. That synopsis might scream traditional horror, but the characters are no mere archetypes, and Franco’s film is as much relationship drama as slasher. Charlie (Dan Stevens) is married to Michelle (Alison Brie) and works with Mina (Sheila Vand), who happens to be dating his younger brother, Josh (Jeremy Allen White). Charlie somewhat disapproves of their relationship, given Josh’s troubled past, while his closeness with Mina is a point of tension for both couples. This trip is already an emotional powder keg, and

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