The Rental: Dave Franco’s Directorial Debut Featuring Wife Alison Brie
By Ina R. Bochian
Dave Franco’s directorial debut, The Rental, which I would qualify more as a psychological thriller rather than a horror, blew me away. Considering I rarely watch movies in this genre, Dave Franco’s work inspires me to be more open minded. Scary movies are very popular, but it is very difficult to make a scary movie more than just guts and blood without being cliche. The Rental, however, a story by Mike Demski, Joe Swanberg, and Dave Franco was adapted into a screenplay that translated well on screen with a relatively small cast.
As a creative and newer screenplay writer myself, I can appreciate that the story drives the movie, rather than the special effects or excess drama. The cinematography set the mood through lighting and setting, which worked beautifully to complement the plot. Besides being well written, the movie featured a fantastic small cast including Dave Franco’s wife, Alison Brie, best known for her most recent work in Horse Girl and the series Glow (both currently available on Netflix). Alongside Brie, Sheila Vand, Dan Stevens, Jeremy Allen White, and Toby Huss joined to tell a story about two couples who found themselves dealing with internal and external conflicts while on a weekend getaway in a rental home.
While the build up to the plot twist is suspenseful, without giving too much away, I can appreciate the conflicts brought into the film that went beyond addressing creepy property owners and the idea of being watched. The question to be answered by the audience really is, “How much do you really know someone?” Oftentimes, it is strangers we can fear, but the real enemy we face daily is an enemy within. Who are we really when we are left alone in the dark, uninhibited? Everyone has secrets, but we do not know our own darkest secrets until we are faced with a situation where we are tested. Some pass while others get caught up trying to set things right after a lapse of judgement. Sometimes we discover something that was always there, waiting to be revealed. Watching The Rental took me on a psychological ride because I imagined myself as each of the characters, thoughtfully analyzing what each must have been thinking or feeling as they made their decisions.
My favorite part of the story was really the overarching question of “What if?” Franco gives us clues in the very beginning of the movie through careful foreshadowing without making the outcome obvious. He sets up a little tension without overt reveals. The characters are playful, yet mysterious, without being predictable. The horror part of the film is not what happens in the end, but rather a much more profound fear exposed by circumstances. Life is made of choices and the consequences can have an impact on our lives as they play out, which is something The Rental addresses in an intricate way.
Alison Brie, who played Michelle, beautifully portrayed a nonchalant supportive wife. Brie reveals some of Michelle’s insecurities through her tone, which adds an extra layer to her character. Without overtly expressing the character’s inner thoughts, Alison manifests Michelle’s fears through subtle changes worth noting. Brie’s acting is far superior than a lot I have seen in the few horror movies I was able to sit through. She is brilliant, subtle, yet effective in her role, allowing the story to carry the movie without getting too far ahead of the narrative through exaggerated expressions. Oftentimes, especially inexperienced actors, fail horror movies by being too obvious, but Alison brought her A game to this movie, proving her talent alongside her husband.
The other actors in the film did an excellent job interacting with each other’s characters in ways that kept the audience guessing. I was so invested in the story because the chemistry between the characters was well developed through dialogue, tone, body language, and subtle gazes. The plot was simple, but the complexity of the characters made this movie much more than a scary movie. Dave Franco’s debut as a director has telltale signs of his older brother’s influence on his work.
James Franco is well known for his method acting and the uncanny realism of his work, and it seems Dave picked up a lot being around James. Previously, the brothers worked together in The Disaster Artist, which landed James Franco a Golden Globe, but they have been working together since they were kids.
“My brother and I have been telling stories together since we were little kids. We made The Disaster Artist, and it was one of the most rewarding creative experiences I’ve had. I hope we do get a chance to collaborate again in the future,” the new director said in a Variety interview.
The beauty of this brotherhood is that James is humble enough to let Dave have his moment and supports him every step of the way without needing to share space. Over the years, getting to know James gave me a better perspective on his love for his family. He speaks fondly of Dave and loves his family above anything. While James is better known than both of his brothers, Dave and Tom, he would give anything to encourage his brothers to be the best they can be at their craft. He is caring, compassionate, and selfless when it comes to helping his family and friends move ahead in their careers. This rare quality sets James apart as an artist, brother, and friend to many who may have forgotten his contributions.
On the other hand, it is very important to note that Dave and James are two unique artists with notable bodies of work that set them apart from each other. Dave worked on many projects of his own as an actor and should be appreciated for standing in a class of his own. Unfortunately, subpar journalists have trouble distinguishing the two brothers and even mixes them up. In the most recent week, I personally had to reach out to a well known publication for using James in a headline, while the article was entirely about Dave and his wife Alison. This is not the first time I caught such an error, which makes me wonder if journalists are really that sloppy or if they purposely insert James Franco in stories that have nothing to do with him. One has to wonder who pays for all those fake stories, which have negative connotations. For this reason, it is understandable why James wants to let Dave take the lead and build his work and notoriety. We cannot rely on lazy journalists who care more about getting a story out and readership than they do about the subjects and people they cover. To maintain journalistic integrity, it is crucial that every artist is given their time and space and storyline, rather than blending narratives to distort perception.
Because of James, I did meet Dave, who is quite lighthearted and easy going. Unlike James, Dave is a lot more relaxed and free, but just like his brother he is humble and talented. Few evaluate James as unassertive due to his comical nature, but his strongest quality is being there for those he loves. James was the first person of his caliber to read my work and tell me I am a valuable writer and artist. For his continued support and encouragement, I will always acknowledge and appreciate him as one of the greatest artists I personally know. Naturally, I would love to see all three brothers collaborating on a project together because they all have such unique qualities that tend to come out when they are around each other. Their talent is a gift, but also inherited from their author mother, Betsy Franco, who supports her sons in their artistic pursuits. As a family of creatives, the talent cultivated by the Francos is better than gold, it is a diamond mine.
I truly feel privileged to know such rare gems and wish them all success in every area of their lives. Judging from afar, few truly understand the level of commitment and sacrifice required to excel like this family has. Many fail to acknowledge that talent, much like a diamond, has to go through a process before truly being appreciated. Success isn’t an overnight sensation, but often comes from years of incomprehensible pain. My personal opinion is that the Francos are just starting. Whatever challenges they may have faced are just part of what it means to become refined and reflect light. They may not always shine because they work so hard to reflect the light of those they have helped along the way. In time, as all legends do, the Francos will persevere and build on the foundation they have so carefully laid after years of hard work.
Sometimes artists have to step back, break down, adjust, and rebuild the future better than anything from the past. I have every confidence that God Himself carefully coordinated the talent He gifted this family. God is not finished with the Francos yet. The best is yet to come and I am excited to cheer them all on as they fulfill their destiny to greatness.
To get a glimpse of what a new beginning looks like for a director, watch Dave Franco’s debut, The Rental. You can access it today on Amazon Prime. Be sure to grab your favorite treats as you keep your eyes glued to the screen. Enjoy the suspense and brilliant acting.