At the start of The Rental, we see characters played by Dan Stevens and Sheila Vand trying to book a gorgeous seaside home for a weekend getaway. We aren’t sure if they’re friends, colleagues, or a couple. It’s just the first of many mysteries that will soon unravel, while dismantling their comfortable lives.
The film, the directorial debut by Dave Franco, examines class, racism, gaslighting, and secret surveillance – basically everything we’re talking about in 2020 — with exquisite slow-burn thrills. The almost unbearable tension works in large part because of the dynamic between Stevens and Vand, who turn out to be business partners with close family ties.
Vand’s character, Mina, is dating Josh (Jeremy Allen White), the brother of Stevens’ character, Charlie. Charlie’s wife, Michelle (Alison Brie) plays peacemaker as, to borrow Vand’s description, “privilege devolves into just complete chaos.”
“I think like a lot of great horror,” says Stevens, “it plays on people’s paranoid fears and the issues of trust amongst people. The fact that we now live in a world where you can just click on an app and get somebody’s house keys and just hang out in their home and behave in ways that you might not in your own home. And also, the idea of just total surveillance is pretty terrifying and feeds a lot of people’s paranoia.”
“The specific fear of being spied on is one of my worst fears,” adds Vand. “And it maybe because I actually do stay in short-term rentals often… sometimes the way I work through my fear is by going all the way towards it, and kind of excavating it out of my body. And it felt like maybe if I enacted the actual possibility of all this, it would almost help me with my fear.”
Stevens was drawn to the role because of the change to play a character who “initially seems to be pretty spotless and just sort of a normal, nice guy — and to have that perception sort of slowly unravel. It just becomes increasingly awful. And there’s sort of initial red flags.”
One of those red flags comes when Mina attempts to rent the property and is denied – and then Charlie rents it with no problem. She suspects she’s been profiled because of her Middle Eastern last name. But on the car ride to the rental, Charlie and Josh dismiss the idea.
In a conversation for a MovieMaker feature on the film, Barry Jenkins, who directed Franco in If Beale Street Could Talk, focused on that scene, to ask the question: “Is Dave Franco making a critical critique on whiteness?”
Vand believes so.
“I thought Dave did something quite bold and wonderful in that moment where he kept the camera on my character — and I’m not just saying that because it’s just more of me,” Vand says with a laugh.
“But I thought that was an amazing moment, where you’re hearing these two white guys discussing whether this moment was racist, and they kind of have all of the words, and he chose to, even though Mina didn’t have lines in that moment, to stay on her reaction and to stay on what it felt like for her to sit there and let these people parse it out, knowing everything she knows in her body and life experience. I feel like usually people just cut away.
“But Dave chose to stay with Mina there, and I think that moment belongs to her,” she adds.
The Rental is now in select theaters and drive-ins and available on demand.