Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 28 minutes
The shift in technology has made the world more connected but has rendered the concept of privacy obsolete. There is no place on Earth that can remain hidden from the all-seeing eye of a camera, cell phone, drone, or other tools of video surveillance. Forgive the paranoia afflicted prose of these opening sentences but it would be a lie to sugarcoat the truth. Outside of birthday party recollections and vacation memories, the idea of recording can carry a dark undercurrent of sadism when left in the hands of unsavory characters. “Somebody’s Watching Me” is not just a slice of 80s pop music cheese; it’s the spine chilling predicament of four friends embarking on a mini weekend getaway in sunny California.
Dave Franco’s directorial debut, “The Rental,” sticks a flag in the ever-increasing field of thrillers dealing with the negatives of technology gone awry. What was supposed to be a vacation in the space of a luxurious beachfront house filled with smiles, drug experimentation, and couples bonding closer gets turned sour into a game of survival. Survival not consisting of just life or death but also the ability to keep secrets and deception from reaching the surface. Charlie (Dan Stevens), Michelle (Allison Brie), Mina (Shelia Vand), and Josh (Jeremy White) represent our group under the watchful eye of a mysterious peeping tom who stalks and lurks unknowingly. Unfortunately, only one character (Josh) out of the four subjects has their own personality, fears, and desires fleshed out while the others are simply empty vessels.
Notwithstanding the lack of interesting characters, the story plays out like a kid not knowing their limitations when it comes to eating candy. Franco has a road ahead of him that could lead to a competent career behind the camera but he has some lessons to learn. His handling of the narrative elements is to carry different subplots that could all work as one film on their own; instead, they are jumbled together leading to an illogical cinematic clutter. One subplot provides the stakes of keeping a love affair hidden while the other wrinkle follows the predicament of the homeowner himself that feels untrustworthy. One of these plots could have carried all the way home but this is a case of doing too much when simple would work better.
Good can be found in the short 88-minute runtime, specifically when the characters are forced out of their cocoon of comfort having to match wits with the unseen villain in new major twists. The main thing that decreases the level of enjoyment is found with character flaws that reek of a lack of common sense. There is nothing worse in a horror film than being treated to a lack of character intelligence. People still not realizing that they can’t commit perfect murders or solve uncomfortable dilemmas by calling for help is laughable in the bad sense of the word. By the end, it is not a shocking conclusion that lies waiting for the characters.
“The Rental” is a horror/thriller mashup that carries the ethos of a decent film but exits the room with a mark of incompletion.
Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.