Movie Review ~ The Rental (2020)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: 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.

Stars: Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, Jeremy Allen White, Sheila Vand, Toby Huss

Director: Dave Franco

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  I love to travel but I’m kinda weird about it.  Here’s the thing, when I go on vacation I want to feel like I’m away from home and want the place I stay to feel special and not like…well, my home.  That’s why I’ve always found the Airbnb craze to be a little whack-a-doo because who would want to stay in a person’s house (or even a place someone else decorated or, shudder, put their bare feet on the pillows?) when you could get pampered at a hotel for sometimes half the cost?  I know that for large parties it may work out better but there’s just something a little creepy to me about the entire set-up.  After watching The Rental, I’m even more convinced I’m right to be worried.

The first feature film directed by Dave Franco (The Disaster Artist), The Rental could have easily gone in another direction that was more cliché and expected and that would have been a gigantic and exasperating disappointment.  Thankfully, Dave seems to have learned from the strange misfires his older brother James made as both a director and star and kept his debut tight.  He also wisely hasn’t made it more difficult on himself by starring in the film as well but instead remains behind the camera as director and co-writer with indie favorite Joe Swanberg (You’re Next) who knows his way around these types of slow-dread genre films.  The result should have audiences ready to check-in and hunker down for a corker of a chiller.

Excited for a weekend away from their busy city lives, Charlie (Dan Stevens, Lucy in the Sky), his wife Michelle (Alison Brie, The Five-Year Engagement), his brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White, Viena and the Fantomes) and Josh’s girlfriend/Charlie’s business partner Mina (Sheila Vand, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) book a beach house in the woods that’s just secluded enough to help them unwind  and party without disruption.  Things get off to a jittery start when Mina, who is Middle Eastern, requests to book the house and is denied but Charlie, who is white, is accepted immediately.  Arriving to find the owner (Toby Huss, Halloween) affable at first but vague when questioned about the perceived racism in the booking snafu, the foursome shake off any lingering bad feelings and try to enjoy their first night at the spacious house.

The calm doesn’t last long though as a night of partying leads to the first of a number of secrets that are eventually exposed, along with a danger that none of them could have ever predicted.  Situations go from bad to worse when a split-second decision changes the course of their weekend plans from a fun retreat with family/friends to a downward spiral of mayhem.  As miscommunication, distrust, fear, and anger start to take hold of the group, what starts as a weekend to relax quickly devolves into a surprisingly effective fight for survival stemming from a mystery they are racing to unravel.  To reveal more would not be playing fair and Franco/Swanberg largely stick to realistic developments that rely on spur of the moment choices and their devastatingly quick consequences.

I was genuinely impressed with the acumen Franco shows for maneuvering his small troupe of actors around and the way he works with Swanberg to keep us on our toes throughout.  The twists and turns presented in The Rental are often unpredictable and you’ll lose valuable time the more you try to figure out what’s happening or where the action will go next.  Leaving little room for extra fat to weigh things down, the 80 or so minutes are free from the normal pitfalls of first time filmmaking, suggesting again that Franco has been paying attention when he’s been on sets these past years as an actor.

Frustrating though they all may be at times and not without blame for much of what happens during this weekend from hell, the characters are all appealing in some fashion.  I’m usually not a fan of Brie (Franco’s real life wife) but she’s quite fun here and despite a slow start where her character is a bit more passive than we’re used to seeing from Brie she revs up and gets a few good zingers in during the second half.  Every time Stevens pops up in a movie my partner notes that ever since he left Downton Abbey the actor seems totally averse to speaking in his native UK accent and here again he’s not wholly successful in showing off his elocution.  Stevens hasn’t quite found his footing, post-Downton and while he’s been well-reviewed in a number of films he continues to come up lacking for me…but in The Rental that cool from a distance feel actually works for his often compromised pseudo-nice guy.  As Charlie’s screw-up brother, White is fine in a role that gradually gets aggravating but it’s Vand’s commanding presence that is the real find here.  Taking the role as serious as it needs to be, Vand handles some character developments and choices that could be poison with an unusual amount of grace, keeping us oddly on her side.

Franco has said the idea for The Rental came from his caution about staying in an Airbnb property and his trepidation shows with an end product that’s drenched in paranoia.  Building to a sharp sting around the halfway mark before rising to a spine-tingling crescendo that’s sustained through the credits, The Rental is a four-star winner for the weary traveler wary of where they lay their head at night.

Movie Review ~ You’re Next

youre_next_ver7

The Facts:

Synopsis: When the Davison family comes under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway, the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of victims harbors a secret talent for fighting back.

Stars: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Nick Tucci, Wendy Glenn, Joe Swanberg, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, Maragaret Laney, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Larry Fessenden, Lane Hughes, L.C. Holt, Simon Barrett, Calvin Reeder

Director: Adam Wingard

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Oh I really wanted to like this movie a lot more.  Believe me.  We all know how the ever-lovin’ hype-machine can set the bar so high that not even an Olympic long jump champion could fly over it.  Unfortunately that’s what happened with my viewing of You’re Next, a film I probably would have rated higher had I not gone into it having read so many articles claiming it’s the Next Big Thing in horror.

Completed in 2011 but getting its debut now, you’d think that the movie had some sort of black mark with its overly long time on the shelf.  Well, it turns out that it was actually a smart move to hold the film back until now because back in 2011 audiences were still saturated with slasher films of decreasing quality and increasing stupidity.  Really starting with 2012’s Cabin in the Woods, the horror genre has undergone a slight maturity because viewers are demanding something a little bit more than just gobs of blood and guts.

Though the 2013 remake of Evil Dead and May’s The Purge did respectable business there wasn’t anything spectacular on the horror front until July’s The Conjuring.  Arguably one of the best horror films of the last decade, the haunted house fright flick laid its claim to scariest film of the year and no matter how good You’re Next was it was always going to have to settle for at least second place.

Yet You’re Next and The Conjuring couldn’t be more different in their methods.  Where The Conjuring earned its R rating without any blood, foul language, or nudity, You’re Next gleefully bathes in the sinewy awfulness of its R by serving up death at its most painful.  Stabbings, bashings, and more throat slashing than I could stomach (slit throats have always spooked me), and one truly original death by household appliance are all on display…You’re Next doesn’t let anyone die easily.

All this would be an hour and a half of twisted terror…had it not been for the fact that the movie is nearly equal parts black comedy as it is gory horror.  Comedy isn’t anywhere in the preview for the film and I have to say I was disappointed in how much the movie struggled with its teeter-totter balancing act between laughs and screams.  That’s not to say the movie can’t have its cake and chop it to bits too…but the comedy element was treated in the marketing materials like a dirty secret.  Had the movie marketed its winking aspirations to be a next level Scream, I think I would have been more prepared for the final product.

As it is, you never really know if director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are really accomplishing what they set out to do.  Are we supposed to be siding with the various members of an average family as they battle vicious masked killers that come a-callin’ just as they are sitting down for an anniversary dinner?  Or are we meant to root for the killers to snuff out several family members with personalities no one will miss.  Though the bitter comedy bits do land successfully, they feel out of place with the rest of the slicing and dicing.

Also out of place is a lumpy stew of actors cast in roles that they don’t seem to fully be right for.  Though 80’s scream queen Barbara Crampton looks great for her age, I never once bought that she was the mother of these adult kids…but it’s not like Crampton goes to great acting lengths to do her character any favors either.  It’s fun to see various members of the next wave of horror directors pop up in bit parts with The Innkeepers director Ti West getting right to the, um, point of his cameo.

It’s the one outsider (of the family and the creative collective that sit in front of and behind the camera) that makes the most impact.  Australian Sharni Vinson (Bait) bides her time on the sidelines until she’s called up to the plate as a survivalist that gives the killers a taste of their own medicine.  Though the film creaks as it winds down with several interesting twists that surround a Home Alone-type booby trap ending, Vinson is an appealing presence throughout.

I think I’d like You’re Next more on a second viewing and if I’m being honest I liked the film more as I let it sink in.  Maybe it’s not the movie I wanted it to be but there’s more than a dose of cleverness going on here and at least it’s not another endless sequel made as a quick cash grab for its studio.  It’s probably more effective to be seen in the security of your own home…though you’ll probably check that the doors and windows are locked one extra time before you turn out the light.

The Silver Bullet ~ You’re Next

youre_next_ver2

Synopsis: When the Davison family comes under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway, the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of victims harbors a secret talent for fighting back.

Release Date: August 23, 2013 

Thoughts: If the advance buzz is to be believed, You’re Next is one damn good horror film.  Now, I always try to take that kind of praise with a grain of salt because one person’s Cabin in the Woods could be another person’s The Apparition.  Still, the slick and scary new trailer for the horror film releasing this August gave me more than a few chills.  The home invasion genre has been done well recently (2008’s The Strangers) but it seems there’s more terror to mine from a fear we all have about our general safety while at home.  Director Wingard and several of the cast/crew were also involved with the underrated gore-fest V/H/S in 2012 and if that film is any indication, You’re Next will be a twisted throat-grabber aimed to produce maximum screams.