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THE MOVIE GUY — Uneven ‘Rental’ is part horror, part social commentary

The Rental

IFC Films

Directed by Dave Franco

Starring Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White and Toby Huss

Rated R

2 ½ Stars

The Rental is an interesting film that’s part horror flick and part social commentary. The problem is that it never quite settles into being one thing or the other, so it ends up being a mediocre mix of both with some technology criticism thrown in at the end for good measure.

The story follows a group of four friends who rent a house for the weekend. The house is beautiful, but things get off to a bad start when the housekeeper (Toby Huss) makes a racist, throwaway remark to one of the renters. It’s a mild comment, but it’s enough to set her off, bringing a note of discord into the weekend getaway.

The first half of the film revolves around this conflict between the creepy old white dude and the Muslim woman who will be staying in his house for the weekend. It’s never quite clear if both parties are being overly sensitive, or if something malicious is waiting to erupt. Throw in the fact that the four friends are harboring some secrets of their own and you have the beginnings of a nice little story with plenty of simmering tension.

It helps that the cast is made up of actors who you will recognize from TV, even if you don’t quite know their names. You have the guy from Downton Abbey and Legion (Dan Stevens) and the woman from Community and GLOW (Alison Brie), plus the woman from Snowpiercer (Shelia Vand) and the guy from Shameless (Allen White) facing off against the dude from Halt and Catch Fire (Huss). There’s a lot of talent in this cast, which is good as there’s a lot going on in this story.

At least there is until the film suddenly switches gears to become a mindless slasher flick, with our band of friends being forced to fight against a masked man with a hammer. This portion of the film is rather cliched, right down to the shot of a limping woman being chased by a killer through a foggy forest. It’s stuff you’ve seen before in hundreds of other horror flicks.

Ultimately The Rental has a lot of good ideas, but they don’t really fit together, so the film whiplashes between its parts. Still, it’s a nice directorial debut from Dave Franco (The guy from The Disaster Artist and brother of James). I enjoyed the camera work, the atmospheric buildup and I loved the end credits, which is perhaps my favorite part of this movie.

The Rental is a fun little fright flick, and one that promises better things to come from this young director.

The Rental is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube, Xfinity, VUDU, Google Play and Fandango Now.

 Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in The Port Arthur News and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.