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Dave Franco explains the twist ending of ‘The Rental’ and his sequel plans

Sheila Vand in Dave Franco's "The Rental."
Sheila Vand in Dave Franco’s directorial debut, “The Rental,” an IFC Films release.
(Allyson Riggs / IFC Films)

Warning: This story contains spoilers about the final scene of “The Rental.” There will be another warning before discussion of the film’s ending. If you’d like to read some non-spoiler-y “The Rental” content, check out this Mark Olsen review and this article on IFC’s drive-in movie strategy.

Dave Franco makes his directorial debut with “The Rental,” an atmospheric thriller that aims to subvert the familiar couples-getaway-gone-wrong horror premise.

The film, which began playing on 251 (largely drive-in) screens on Friday and is also available on VOD, stars Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Alison Brie and Dan Stevens as two couples who rent a remote oceanside cabin together and are stalked by a voyeuristic predator.

Franco says he was inspired in making the film as much by horror classics like “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” “The Shining” and “Halloween” as he was by the rising class of horror filmmakers including Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, Jennifer Kent, Amy Seimetz and Sean Durkin. “These are filmmakers who are making projects that take their time to really creep up on you,” he said. “And when they finally do, they land really hard and linger with you long after you watch them.

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“I would love to continue down this path and make more films within the horror genre,” said Franco. “I have a pretty strong idea for a sequel to this film if I had the opportunity to carry on the story.”

The actor got his start directing short films and skits for the comedy website FunnyorDie.com, and he wrote the script for “The Rental” with indie director Joe Swanberg (Netflix’s “Easy”), from a story credited to the pair and Mike Demski.

“I’ve wanted to take the leap into directing a feature for a while now but I was a little bit nervous,” Franco said. “But then I wrote this script and I realized I had such a strong idea for how I wanted to execute it. And then when I was actually on set, I realized I knew a lot more than I thought because I’ve been on so many sets as an actor. I felt like I was able to skip some of those steps, which immediately put me a little bit more at ease.”

The Times caught up with the first-time horror director to discuss the film’s twist ending, subverting well-worn horror tropes and the nexus of his fear about home-sharing.

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Warning: Major spoilers about the final scene of “The Rental” follow.

Alison Brie in Dave Franco's "The Rental."
(Allyson Riggs / IFC Films)

How did you decide upon the twist to make the killer a former renter as opposed to the homeowner or someone else?

I just tapped into that idea of wondering why we trust the people we’re renting to and thinking about how there must be people who stay in these rental homes and then make copies of the keys and come back at a later date to do whatever they want. It’s just a very creepy idea that I felt was worth exploring.

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So what exactly happened to Mina (Sheila Vand)?

There’s a sequence at the end of the film where Mina is running from the killer and her vision becomes so impaired under heavy fog that she doesn’t realize she’s running toward the cliff’s edge and she falls. We don’t show her body in the ocean below because we wanted to leave it up to the viewers to have their own interpretations of whether or not she survived the fall.

Did you ever consider a version of the movie where a member of the foursome survived?

I think the main four died in every draft of the script. And that was partially because we wanted the killer to have a clean getaway so he could continue to go about his routine undetected. I think most people anticipate that there’s at least going to be one survivor. But we did make a point to keep the dog alive to at least give the audience a little bit of a win. There’s this strange thing where, as audience members, we sympathize more with animals than humans! I think it’s because they are these innocent creatures that don’t deserve harm. And also, Reggie the dog was technically the only one who didn’t do anything wrong in the movie, so that’s why we kept him alive.

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Technically Michelle (Alison Brie) didn’t do anything wrong either.

Well, she didn’t call the cops. She could’ve called the cops but she didn’t.

The film subverts some well-worn horror tropes. How important was it for you to create a new twist on a familiar story?

We really tried to subvert the genre wherever possible to keep the audience guessing. In a lot of horror films, there’s a reason for why their cellphones don’t work. We wanted to challenge ourselves and create a scenario where their phones do work and they could call the cops if they wanted, so we created these problems that inhibit them from doing that. That felt like a somewhat novel approach to the technology side of everything.

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I wrote the script with Joe Swanberg and our goal was to create a tense relationship drama where the interpersonal issues between the characters were hopefully just as thrilling as the fact that there’s a psycho villain lurking in the shadows. Even when things start to go off the rails, we never wanted to lose sight of these characters and their relationships.

Has making this movie soured your feelings toward home-sharing or had you already been against it?

My levels of paranoia have reached their peak since filming this movie. Now when I stay in a rental home, I’m not thinking, Are there cameras here? I’m more thinking, I know there are cameras here, it’s just about whether or not I find them. You will literally find me standing on chairs and using my cellphone flashlight to look in the nooks and crannies of these places.

Have you considered quitting rentals altogether?

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Not necessarily, and I think that’s partially what I was exploring with the film — that disconnect where we are all aware of the risks of staying in a stranger’s home but we never think anything will actually happen to us. So we subject ourselves to these scenarios where we’re potentially putting ourselves in harm’s way but we continue to do it out of necessity and convenience.

Have you personally had a weird or creepy home-sharing experience?

I personally haven’t had a nightmare home-sharing experience [but] I have had a terrible hotel experience. I was staying in a pretty dingy spot while filming a movie and I didn’t want to ask [the studio] to move me to a new hotel.... I was just going to suck it up. But then one day after they turned down the room, I went to bed and when I woke up, there was a splotch of dried blood right next to my face. I checked my body and I was not bleeding so I guess that was technically the “new sheet” that they had put on the previous day. At that point I asked them to move me to a new hotel because I draw the line at [having] a stranger’s dried blood near my face.


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