Film Critic

Chuck Koplinski is The News-Gazette's film critic. His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter (@ckoplinski).

0726 SR The Rental

From left, Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Jeremy Allen White and Sheila Vand star in ‘The Rental’ (2020).

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Maintaining a consistent tone or mood over the course of a movie is something that’s much harder than it seems, a process that requires an assured hand behind the camera.

With film shoots lasting anywhere from two to six weeks or longer, steadily building and keeping the same tenor throughout this piecemeal process requires an acute eye for detail as well as the ability to remind your cast where their characters are emotionally in the story.

So when I see a young filmmaker pull this off, I can’t help but sit up and take notice.

Such is the case with Dave Franco’s “The Rental,” an inspired, nasty little piece of cinema that puts an effective twist on the home-invasion genre.

Moody from the start, the film steadily unravels as its characters’ emotional states are gradually upended before revealing a late twist that proves inspiring.

Propelled by sincere performances from its small cast, the movie ends up being a surprising, modest and welcome entry in the horror genre, which has seen far too many run-of-the-mill features as of late.

Business partners Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand), having achieved a significant professional milestone, decide they need some much-deserved time away. So they rent a somewhat remote, rather posh home to spend the weekend at with their partners — Charlie’s wife, Michelle (Alison Brie), and Mina’s boyfriend, Josh (Jeremy Allen White), who just happens to be Charlie’s brother.

There’s an obvious attraction between Charlie and Mina as well as the sense she looks at Josh as something of a consolation prize. This contributes to a low-simmering sense of sexual tension that boils over when their partners take a hike by themselves and temptation proves too strong.

Making things worse, Josh innocently reveals something about his brother’s past that causes Michelle to look at their relationship in a new light. But the kicker is when Mina discovers there are cameras planted in each of the showers, which she suspects recorded her and Charlie’s indiscretion.

This, as well as the obvious invasion of privacy, instills a sense of panic in her that leads her to overreact, with tragic results.

The other key player here is Taylor (Toby Huss), the property caretaker who’s more than a bit creepy and perhaps a bit racist, both of which trigger Mina and lend an interesting social subtext.

That he would be the man behind the covert cameras would be too easy a solution; credit writer Joe Swanberg and Franco for an inspired and genuinely disturbing narrative switchback that, while perhaps not probable, is still within the realm of possibility to get under the viewer’s skin.

Reminiscent of Joel Edgerton’s “The Gift,” the film is essentially a character study in which we see each person placed in situations that test their morality. The justification each of them gives for

the dire acts they commit are, while not always sound, at the very least understandable.

The connection viewers establish with each is based on either identifying with or being disgusted by their choices.

It’s an approach that draws the viewer in on a guttural level that makes for an engaging and surprisingly emotional experience.

“The Rental” effectively reminds us that we need not go looking for monsters; they’re often standing right next to us or gazing out of the mirror.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter (@ckoplinski). His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.