Movie Review: “The Rental” – Low Rent B and B Horror
By Isaac Feldberg
Location weaves its way down predictable genre tracks, its characters settling into the expected “types” as screws are gradually turned on them by anyone watching from a distance.
The best that can be said for a first film as amateur and superficial as Location (now available on VOD), before he goes back on his unspoken agreement to inflict Haneke-style mind games on the set of mumblecore (which is not an inherently unappealing proposition, as anyone has assisted Hannah takes the stairs will tell you), is that a few strong performances, including from its writer-director Dave Franco, show signs of life in his closed world of sadly egocentric hipsters and miasmic forebodings.
Best of all is Dan Stevens, the Downton abbey actor who, since leaving the buttoned-up period drama, has used his easygoing charm and unfazed calm to play a series of psychopaths (The guest), certified helmets (Legion) and the haunted outcasts (Apostle). As Charlie – a tech entrepreneur who takes his wife Michelle along (Alison Brie, TV’s Shine) gone on a vacation weekend with her business partner / best friend Mina (Sheila Vand, A girl comes home alone at night) and her boyfriend Josh (Jeremy Allen White, end of TV Shameless, nervous and particularly impressive), also Charlie’s brother – Stevens operates at a low, menacing buzz throughout. He’s a Silicon Valley brother in the classic mold, a smug shark all the more dangerous because he’s convinced himself he’s actually a nice guy, and Stevens captures the shrunken, impatient hunger behind his eyes. .
When Charlie, Michelle, Mina and Josh first arrive at a gorgeous vacation home that overlooks the Oregon Coast, they are greeted by a Harbinger style keeper (Toby Huss, scary in an efficient and low-key manner) who accepted Charlie’s Airbnb rental request but declined Mina’s; she is of Middle Eastern descent and, as the only non-white member of the party, she is (of course) the first to suspect the Guardian of devious behavior. Quickly enraged, she confronts him with her own condescension, doubting his country accent and working class attire, wondering if he even owns the rental in the first place. There is an intriguing thread here Location pulls only lightly, implying the menacing nature of microaggressions: how very often they can point to bad actors, or at least those harboring an inner darkness – if we are conscious of noticing them.
But in a horror thriller like this, you have to expect some ignorance at first, and these four soon put off the meeting in order to properly savor their weekend, with drinks, drugs and drugs. spa jets. But trouble in Heaven comes in the form of wandering eyes; Charlie and Mina share an easy intimacy that usually strengthens their professional relationship, but it blurs the lines once Ecstasy is introduced and their respective partners swoon for the evening. Cracks also appear elsewhere. The endearing Josh rightly fears that Mina is too smart for him, while Michelle is both jealous of her husband’s bond with Mina and increasingly alarmed to learn more about his past romantic relationships.
The lines are crossed, the hangover neat, the regrets recorded; the next morning, Mina discovers what appears to be a hidden camera in the shower. Typically, such a “voyeur” intrusion would result in a police call and a one star rating. But, seeing that said shower has greeted some of the aforementioned more egregious line crossings, Mina and Charlie must instead figure out how to deal with this violation without acknowledging their own indiscretion.
None of this is particularly intriguing or remotely innovative, it must be said. Behind the camera, the actor turned director Franco (Nerve) strives to establish a dark and cool color palette, although he and cinematographer Christian Sprenger (TV GLOW) leans too far in that direction in a cloudy and difficult third act to follow. The director appears to seek slow Hitchcock-style thriller at first, channeling the sadistic voyeurism of masterpieces like fear of heights and psychopath, despite completely avoiding the fetishistic goals of these films. Therefore, the tribute ends on edge, bloodless, really just a formal exercise in search of dramatic purpose. There’s a strong late-game streak where our perspective is altered to demonstrate just how closely the characters in the movie are being watched. Intended to accentuate the feeling of surrounding paranoia, it suddenly arrives and suggests a much more interesting interpretation of this material than the one that precedes it and picks up quickly.
Location instead, it follows predictable genre rails, its characters settling into the expected “types” as screws are gradually turned on them by anyone watching from a distance. There is little filmic support for its modern “Scare-bnb” premise through claustrophobic technological constructs (like the far scarier, meaner, more ambitious Friendless: Dark Web) or even a clever twist in the third act. The screenplay, which Franco co-wrote with Joe Swanberg (Win it all; Drinking buddies), is rather unforgivable despite a time of 88 minutes, especially since all the import twists are recorded for a third act that takes the film from a low-powered drama to a sub-80s slasher.
Depending on who you ask, Swanberg is either acclaimed or guilty of popularizing the so-called “mumblecore” subgenre of independent cinema, bordered by gentrified Brooklyn in their thirties, on tight budgets and often hollow apes of naturalism. Cassavetes style. His presence is felt most strongly in Locationmilquetoast mating confusion and millennial cusp disorder; the characters in its central quartet are slightly individually sketched, but they collide and connect in slightly more intriguing ways. Franco and Swanberg strive to pair them up in different combinations throughout the film. (Like Michelle and Josh, the two loving partners of Charlie and Mina’s jerky entrepreneurs, Brie and Allen White have less to do and do more with it, especially when their characters are asked to light up a dime in response to the events of their lovers It is to the detriment of the film that two actors so sensitive to nuance are almost systematically deprived of opportunities to exercise it throughout.)
Swanberg once dabbled in horror with the V / H / S segment “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (which more effectively pierced the illusion of privacy afforded by modern technology). But, as there, his weaknesses as a writer are exposed in unflattering ways: mansplain-y male characters, passively subscribed female characters, and a squeaky boredom about how the two guys interface. But we don’t know if the blame for Location‘S cardinal sin – its insulting insult of an ending – lies more in its pioneering mumblecore co-writer or neophyte writer-director. Without going too far into spoiler territory, Location goes from relationship drama and paranoid thriller to something much more brutal (and, paradoxically, pat). But he ends up hissing in the effort to do so; almost all of Franco’s carefully constructed tension evaporates once the hammers pop out and a vicious third party steps in. The horror elements of Location are intransigent, violent and abrupt; in spurts, it can work, but Franco swings his jumping fears so much like an executioner’s ax that there is hardly a story left once they land.
Or Location Completely Loses Me is in its appendix final scenes, in which a sequel is teased and a larger meaning is not suggested as much as it is sharply pushed into view. There is an insensitivity to the film’s conclusion that is more careless than nihilistic, a lack of imagination disguised as a capital P point. It underlines the feeling of absolute indifference that you will feel while watching this movie. Location demonstrates a certain technical skill on the part of Franco. Her more low-key approach to suspense is promising, even the first suggestion of a voice. What he doesn’t have, at least at this point, is something to say.
Isaac feldberg is an entertainment reporter currently based in Boston. Although often preoccupied with his ongoing quest to prove that Baby Driver is a Drive prequel, he always finds time to enjoy the finer things in life, like Michael Shannon.