Ken’s Film Reviews: The Rental (2020)

“A house-in-the-woods, slasher, & thriller all in one, that does nothing new while falling apart at the end” 

The Story (From IMDB.com)

Charlie (Dan Stevens), his wife Michelle (Alison Brie), Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), and Josh’s girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand) decide to rent an ocean view house for a weekend getaway. After Mina’s application for the house is denied for no reason, Charlie submits one and is accepted. Upon arriving at the remote property, the group meets the property owner Taylor (Toby Huss), whom Mina confronts for denying her application believing it was racially motivated. Taylor denies this and leaves, although he does return later that day to drop off a telescope for the group to use, which alarms Mina. The group settles in and it quickly becomes clear that someone is observing the unaware guests.

After Josh and Michelle go to bed, Mina and Charlie have sex in the shower. The next morning, a hungover Mina and Charlie agree they can never be intimate again, while Josh unintentionally makes Michelle paranoid over Charlie’s faithfulness after mentioning how Charlie cheated on a former girlfriend. While in the shower, Mina discovers a camera in the shower-head and alerts Charlie. Freaked out, Mina goes to call the police, but Charlie stops her as alerting the police would risk someone finding the footage of the pair having sex.

Michelle uses drugs and calls Taylor to fix the hot tub. Mina privately confronts Taylor about the hidden camera, which Taylor claims to be unaware of and moves to call the police himself. Mina tries to stop him, which Josh witnesses and, assuming Taylor is attacking his girlfriend, beats Taylor unconscious. As the group argues over what to do, Mina tells everyone about the hidden camera in the shower. After the group leaves Taylor in the bathroom to discuss what to do next, a masked man (Anthony Molinari) sneaks inside and smothers Taylor to death. When the others return and realize Taylor is not breathing, they assume that Josh has accidentally killed him.

A frantic Michelle demands they call the police, but Charlie refuses to let his brother go to jail, suggesting that they stage Taylor falling off the nearby cliff into the ocean by accident. A despondent Michelle goes to bed while the others carry Taylor’s body to the cliff. When they drop the body it gets stuck on an outcrop, forcing Josh to go down and push it into the sea. While this is happening, Michelle is stalked in the house by the masked man who broadcasts the tape of Mina and Charlie having sex on the television. Devastated, Michelle drives away in the car only to run over a spike strip and crash into a tree.

Mina realizes that they need to find the camera transceiver to destroy the footage of Josh assaulting Taylor. She and Josh go searching for it while Charlie goes to help Michelle. He finds her dead body before being murdered by the masked man. Mina and Josh break into a locked room under the house, but only find old boxes of junk. The footage of Mina and Charlie in the shower is sent to Josh’s phone and he confronts her over it. Hearing someone enter the house, Josh goes downstairs believing it is Charlie. The masked man kills Josh and then hunts for Mina, who manages to sneak outside. He pursues outside where Mina, who is disoriented by the fog, accidentally falls off the cliff and into the ocean to her death.

With everyone dead, the masked killer returns to the house, removing any evidence of the murders and the collection of cameras he installed. The killer rents a new property and installs cameras into it. Oblivious new inhabitants rent the locations, and the masked man attacks a sleeping couple… killing both of them and thus quietly continuing his murderous serial killing spree.

My Thoughts

The Rental is a film that could have been so much more and so much better. A movie which at first looks like an interesting drama centered around morally toxic couples, devolves into nothing more than a dime-a-dozen cabin in the woods/slasher. Three of the four protagonists in this film are unlikeable, which much like another film I previously reviewed, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, makes The Rental a difficult film to sit through. The only thing that helped me make it through to the end was the question of “Who is the killer?” and in one of the most disappointing movie endings of my recent memory, this question is never answered despite the whole film building to it. 

The Rental starts off quite promising. The impression that Mina and Charlie are a couple, only to reveal they are both seeing other people, does a nice job of tipping the viewer off that later in the film, this forbidden relationship dynamic will rear its head again. However, after their initial introduction, my opinion of the characters began going down-hill. The character of Mina becomes obnoxious, where she continually labels the character of Taylor, the brother of the owner of the home they are renting, a racist. Mina has no actual proof that Taylor is a racist aside from claiming that her application to rent out the property for the weekend was denied due to her Arabic sounding last name. 

These remarks about racism and “racist, old White men” are brought up continually throughout the entire film, while feeling VERY out of place. More disturbingly, when Taylor is knocked out later in the film by Josh and later suffocated by the killer, Josh attempts to justify (what he thinks is his own killing) by declaring Taylor had it coming for being a racist. I thought perhaps the director wanted us to dislike Josh after making such a horrid statement, but the film continues portraying him in a sympathetic light after. My best guess is that the director or a writer sadly felt the need to inject their own political views into the film’s script, much to its detriment, so they themselves could perhaps vent. 

The character of Charlie sadly doesn’t fare much better throughout the film. He comes off as your stereotypical Silicon Valley tech creator, who very much has a God complex where he views himself as above everyone else. While speaking with his own wife during the beginning segment of the film, he bashes his younger brother, disparaging him quite savagely. That younger brother himself, Josh, is just as unlikeable. All we learn about Josh is that he is unemployed and has a habit of getting himself in legal trouble and arrested, along with joining in with his unfaithful girlfriend Mina in bashing “racist White men.” The only bearable protagonist in the whole film is Michelle, who has the personality of Plank from Ed, Edd, & Eddy, which actually puts her above the 3 aforementioned characters. 

All of the protagonists being either bland or unlikable really hurt my viewing of this film. It is vital for a slasher film to make you care about the main characters, so that you are invested in them surviving the killer, which The Rental fails completely at. About 60% of it focuses on the unfaithfulness occurring between the couples, but I honestly just didn’t give a shit. A part of me was almost thinking that these horrible people were more or less tailor-made for each other. As the old saying goes “birds of the same feather, flock together.” 

Another downright atrocious aspect of this film is the dialogue. I happened to watch this film alongside two other people, and I genuinely lost count of how many times we paused the film saying aloud “no one talks like that in real life”. There is one particular scene in which Michelle calls Taylor to the home to fix the hot tub after she takes LSD. Upon Taylor’s arrival, Michelle greets him by saying “Hi, how is your night going? I’m high!” I understand this was the very first film made by this director/writer, and it genuinely shows in the spoken dialogue sounding so unnatural and clunky. 

With this being a cabin-in-the-woods and slasher combination, the main attraction to this film is of course going to be the killer. Our first few glimpses of him as the viewer are……generic to say the least. The killer in this film has many scenes in which he stalks the protagonists from afar, watching them from behind bushes and objects while breathing quite loudly (a nod to the Halloween series.) A bit later in the film, he begins appearing in the background directly behind the main characters, being out of focus of the camera so we can’t quite make out his outfit. A bit later, we get our first real look at him, revealing a man wearing an all black outfit except for an old man mask concealing his identity. To put it bluntly, this outfit was plainly lame. 

While I understand the killer was never going to have a fantastical design like a Freddy Kruger or Pyramid Head due to the film being realistic, I wish something had been added to the design besides a $10 old man mask to give it some unique identity. Unique killer designs are one of the many things which cause horror films to be remembered throughout the ages. Freddy’s razor glove, Jason’s hockey mask, Chucky being a literal doll containing a human soul. It’s only been a few days since I’ve watched this film, and I’ve already forgotten what the killer exactly looked like, along with what weapons he utilized. 

Talking about weapons, let’s continue on to yet another disappointing aspect of this film, and that’s the kills. Five people in total die throughout this film’s story, and all five of those deaths are about as exciting as watching modern day WWE. Taylor is suffocated to death while already unconscious, Michelle is killed entirely off screen, Charlie (if I recall correctly) is stabbed a couple of times resulting in the most exciting kill, Josh takes a single blow to the head from a hammer and dies, while Mina accidently falls off a cliff and plummets to her death. Needless to say, everything on tap here was very disappointing, made worse by how long we waited for it. Even what are considered poor slasher films with movies like Friday the 13th Part 5 or Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 have some solid and enjoyable kills. NOTHING here was entertaining what-so-ever. 

In trying to find some light in the dark, let’s touch upon the small amount of good in this film. The film turning into a temporary thriller with Josh, Mina, and Charlie trying to create a plan to dispose of Taylor’s body was a bit entertaining (aside from Josh’s previously mentioned horrible statement.) I found myself having a good laugh when Taylor’s body got stuck falling down the cliff-side, with Charlie and Josh throwing multiple large rocks in an effort to dislodge it, missing every time. Michelle and Josh learning of their partner’s unfaithfulness being what led to each of their deaths was a very nice touch with the foreshadowing at the beginning of the film. And, that’s about it. 

Going ahead and wrapping my thoughts up, I’ll of course finish by speaking on the ending, which as stated previously, is one of the worst endings I think I’ve ever viewed before. With virtually no clues dropped throughout the film in regard to a possible killer identity, I was bracing myself for a major plot-twist. Was it someone related to our four protagonists? The boyfriend of a girl Charlie slept with looking for revenge? Taylor’s brother a la the owner of the home? None of the above. It was…………some random guy. 

Yeah, after making us wait throughout this entire mediocre film, the big killer reveal, is no reveal at all. We never learn the identity of the killer, only ever seeing the back of his head where he appears to be a White dude with brown/redish hair. We also learn that he had no personal motivation for these killings, as it’s shown that he goes from rental property to rental property killing people because……..he just does. 

This was an absolute dumpster-fire of an ending, seeming like the writer realized they only had a day left to finish writing the script, so they just smashed together some nonsensical crap to complete the final 15% of the film’s story. Myself and everyone viewing the film with me responded to this ending with a simple “what?” 

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • A few genuinely funny moments sprinkled throughout
  • Solid foreshadowing regarding unfaithfulness

Cons

  • Very unlikeable characters
  • Bland story
  • Weird, misplaced ramblings about racism
  • Disappointing killer
  • Even more disappointing kills
  • One of the worst endings to a film I’ve ever seen

My Score

4.5/10

“I’m high!” – Michelle 

Published by Ken Van Conover

As a small two year old boy, my father sat me down one day in front of a PlayStation 1 to keep me occupied while he carried out some chores. It is here where I was first exposed to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, as well as Mortal Kombat Trilogy. Little did my father know that his action that day would lead me to a life-long love of videos games. Here, I plan on writing detailed reviews for any and all games, ranging from the NES and Sega Master System, to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. I hope you will join us, and have much enjoyment along the way! Be sure to hit me up on Xbox Live! My username is DarkDemon352

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