Arthouse meets horror in 'The Rental'

Brad Keefe
"The Rental"

Just when you thought it was safe to go to the Airbnb.

In what is obviously the strangest box-office year ever, low-budget horror films have actually found unexpected success. Of course, they don’t have competition from the traditional blockbusters, virtually all of which have been pushed back to 2021. But they’ve got another thing going for them: Cheap scary movies areperfect fodder for drive-in theaters.

This weekend brings the release of “The Rental” to both VOD rental services and drive-ins across the country, including our very own South Drive-In.

It blends in more indie, arthouse vibe than B-movie, but more often than not it works.

Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his girlfriend, Michelle (Alison Brie), are planning a couples’ weekend getaway with Mina (Sheila Vand) and Josh (Jeremy Allen White). They find a seemingly perfect rental house for the occasion: a gorgeous and isolated home that overlooks the ocean, complete with a hot tub.

But they get a weird vibe from the property caretaker (Toby Huss) that creates a lingering unease. Then secret aspects of their relationships lead to a rise in tensions of several kinds.

Actor Dave Franco makes his first appearance behind the camera, and his directorial debut pulls from several obvious influences. I’d imagine that the lighting director was told to watch “The Shining” to prepare. Franco co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Swanberg, one of the founders of the “mumblecore” genre, and “The Rental” has a familiar looseness and feeling of improvised conversation.

If you’re not feeling the vibe of millennials dissecting their relationship tensions, give it some time. Franco builds unease before things really get bonkers.

There are some rough edges in the script that are smoothed by a solid cast, most notably Vand, best known for the brilliant Iranian vampire-western “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” The genre-bending isn’t always the best fit, and the well-executed slasher movie moments feel a bit incongruent with the couple drama, although it does add an emotional connection.

Overall, “The Rental” feels like it’s roughly worth, well, a rental.

But it also seems better suited to that drive-in experience in this weird summer. That’s my recommended viewing.

"The Rental"

Now playing at South Drive-In and VOD

3 stars out of 5