The short-term rental home market has changed significantly in the modern age. Instead of relying on traditional guesthouses, motels, hotels or agents, renters and rental property owners connect directly on digital platforms to conduct business. While the unregulated nature of this innovative process has resulted in many advantages for both parties, there are greater risks involved too, especially for renters.

For example, many renters have found out that they were being spied upon in their short-term rental home by creepy landlords through spy cams. Some have also been stalked and blackmailed by their landlords. The Rental, a new American horror film by first-time director and experienced actor Dave Franco, promises to be an intelligent thriller that explores this issue.

To some extent, it does. This is an atmospheric film that ramps up the tension and can leave you at the edge of your seat. Heck, it makes you think twice about saving a few bucks by renting a home on a platform like Airbnb from an amateur landlord, rather than shell out the cash for a proper hotel.

The film is set at a beautiful oceanfront property. Here, Michelle (Alison Brie), her husband Charlie (Dan Stevens), his brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and Josh’s girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand) come to stay for a weekend holiday. When they arrive, they meet the owner of the property, Taylor (Toby Huss). They all get off on the wrong foot when Mina, who happens to be of Middle Eastern descent, accuses Taylor of racism for rejecting her application but then immediately accepting her boyfriend’s.

First-time director and experienced actor Dave Franco’s The Rental is an atmospheric film that ramps up the tension, at least for the first two acts

Taylor brushes her off and then returns later with a telescope to observe the stars, while making a joke about spying that leaves Mina unsettled.

Here, the film switches gears and turns into a bit of a soap opera. After Josh and Michelle go to sleep, their partners, Mina and Charlie, become intimate in the shower. When Mina finds a camera in the shower, she wants to go to the police, but Charlie stops her for fear of getting blackmailed.

When Taylor comes to repair their hot tub, Mina demands to know about the camera. The two get into an animated disagreement. Josh enters the picture, gets the wrong idea, and knocks Taylor out. As the four get into a hot debate, the film throws a big twist our way. Soon, Mina, Charlie, Josh and Michelle find themselves being stalked and psychologically manipulated into fighting by a mysterious villain.

My only criticism of the first two acts is that it can get too soapy. The drama between the four friends can get heavy-handed, loud, and uninteresting. While the performances are fine, the dialogue could have used some fine-tuning.

For the most part, The Rental is worth a watch. It ramps up the pressure as we guess about what comes next. Unfortunately, the last act is a disappointment. After building up the intensity, writer and director Dave Franco lets us down with a cookie-cutter finale that feels rushed. A film with such an interesting premise deserved a more unique ending.

Rated R for violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexuality

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 31st, 2020