For whatever reason, we have to suffer through horrible fiction tropes across multiple types of media, things that make no sense and yet keep popping up over and over again. One trope that I find particularly heinous is, “no, we can’t call the cops because…”
You have assuredly seen this moment before and, with rare exception, whatever follows the “because” is inane. Perhaps it’s used so much because it’s just easier if the cops don’t get involved in the narrative, but like having cell phones go dead at just the wrong moment, audiences deserve better logic.
“There’s a dead guy, but, no, we can’t call the cops because…”
“I did drugs two years ago. They’ll smell it on me.”
“I slept with a cop’s wife last year and he’ll be the guy who gets called out and will know.”
“I simply didn’t like the guy who just keeled over at my feet, who we all know died of natural causes. But the cops won’t bother to look and see if he died of natural causes, they’ll just arrest me.”
“I was at a protest when I was 12 years old and when the cops broke it up they told me that if I ever called them again I’d go to jail for the rest of my life. Things are finally on the right track for me and I don’t want to go to jail.”
I would give you the “no, we can’t call the cops because” specifics that work their way into Dave Franco’s “The Rental,” which is out on VOD this week, but that would spoil some of the movie. It’s not that the use of the trope doesn’t somewhat spoil things, but it doesn’t entirely ruin them. If I had to put it on the spectrum of “they totally get away with it despite the stupidity of the trope” to “I turned it off at that exact moment and stopped watching forever, just like when ‘Desperate Housewives’ pulled it,” it’s use here ranks as “I guess I understand. I mean, it’s absolutely moronic as decisions go, but there’s a chance that one person in a million would’ve gone down that road and the movie has instilled a lot of good will already. Plus, we’re rapidly approaching its conclusion, might as well stick it out.”
Starring Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, and Toby Huss, Franco’s directorial debut features two couples, Charlie (Stevens) & Michelle (Brie) and Josh (White) & Mina (Vand), renting a very posh home for the weekend. Charlie and Josh are brothers, while Charlie is married to Michelle and business partners with Mina. And if that all sounds complicated, it is a little, but it also works wonderfully within the movie.
The best thing that “The Rental” does as a film is to setup so many potential areas of conflict; so many ways that things could go downhill. There’s an immediate hint of something romantic between Charlie and Mina. Charlie and Josh don’t get along. Josh brings his dog to the house and dogs aren’t allowed. The property manager, Taylor (Huss), is a little creepy and instantly identified as a possible racist (they have to meet him and get more evidence before they can decide).
For the first 30 minutes, the audience watches as the relationships get established, and we all wonder just where things will start to fall apart; which of these would-be issues will come to the fore. Honestly, it’s great. It might be a little silly as well that there are just so many possible ways for this to go bad, but tossing in red herrings works and the script from Dave Franco & Joe Swanberg does a good job of explaining how all these things could be true simultaneously.
We are, in short, gifted with real people at the start of the movie. The performances, of course, are no small part of this with Vand as a stand out. Her character may very well be the most rounded of the bunch and Vand makes us feel for her even when she ought not be terribly sympathetic.
Franco largely handles the unfolding the drama and the rising tension in fine fashion. The incongruous nature of the lovely setting and the dark events is not unique to “The Rental,” but functions well. Up until the climactic moments, which play out rather quickly, the movie feels neither rushed nor overlong.
Nothing about “The Rental” offers the sense that it is a movie people will remember in years to come for any reason other than it being Dave Franco’s first feature. But, that’s okay, it is a complicated, interesting thriller with a few stumbles, a few pieces left on the table, and an absolutely terrible trope. It is worth seeing if you go in for thrillers and a great trivia night answer down the line, just don’t call the cops on because… there’s no way a recording could possibly hurt a human when played back.
photo credit: IFC Films