I have explained the financial reasons why we occasionally write these “endings explained” posts, but beyond that, sometimes it’s just fun, as in the case of The Rental, a movie with an ending that should need no explanation and yet, it has inspired several posts similar to this one. Why? It’s not because the ending of Dave Franco’s directorial debut is complicated, it’s because it doesn’t hew to formula. Spoilers: The Rental is a Final Girl film with no Final Girl.
Back up: If you haven’t read Kristy’s review of The Rental, do that. I agree with it completely. In fact, it’s why I watched The Rental despite some misgivings with Dave Franco (the better, lesser Franco). The cast is also terrific; Dan Stevens should stick to nifty, little horror flicks; Sheila Vand is incredible, as always; my love for Jeremy Allen White is unassailed; and though I sometimes forget it, Alison Brie is one of my favorite people in all of Hollywood (to understand why, you need only need watch to her appearance on The Darkest Timeline with Joel McHale and Ken Jeong this week).
All of that is neither here nor there: The point is, The Rental is great, in that nifty-horror-movie-that-in-no-way reinvents-the wheel-but-that-is-nevertheless-tense-and entertaining-kind-of-way. It’s also really easy to understand if you let go of all those expectations borne out of watching mediocre, formulaic PG-13 movies that earn $20 million in their opening weekend and are never heard of again. Everyone dies in The Rental (except the dog!), but everyone has been so conditioned to believe that someone must survive in every horror film that as soon as The Rental ends, people frantically jump on their Googles and ask, “please someone explain the ending of The Rental to me,” when in fact, what they mean is, “Why did everyone have to die? Now I’m sad.” Well you know what: Life is sad. Your problem is not with The Rental, it is with the human condition.
In the film, which Franco wrote with Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies in the house! But also: Don’t say it, commenters! I see you!), two couples rent a home out in the middle of nowhere. Dan Stevens plays Charlie, and Alison Brie plays Michelle, and they are married. Charlie’s brother, Josh (Jeremy Allen White) is the boyfriend of Mina (Sheila Vand), who works with Charlie. Toby Huss plays Taylor, the creepy, racist renter.
During the two-night stay at the rental, two important things happen: Charlie and Mina drop acid and sleep with each other, and they discover that there are video cameras all over the house, which capture Charlie and Mina fucking in the shower. Charlie and Mina discover the video cameras, but the twist here is that they can’t call the police — because it would reveal their affair — and they can’t tell their respective spouses for the same reason, so they can’t leave, either. It’s a neat little hack that rules out the possibility of using the phone without relying on lost service or everyone’s phone running out of battery.
The use of a phone is even further precluded when Josh — the Jeremy Allen White character with a violent streak — gets in an altercation and accidentally thinks he kills Taylor, the racist renter who Josh believes installed the camera in the shower. With the need to cover up a murder, the foursome really is on their own. However, what we soon find out is that the previous occupant — not the guy who rents the place — is the murderer. He’s a sociopath who AirBnB’s places, sets up cameras, videotapes the next renters, uses that footage as leverage when needed, and then murders the renters. In The Rental, that is exactly what the masked murderer does: He leaves evidence of Charlie cheating on Michelle with Michelle, and she gets angry and leaves the house. She wrecks the car and calls Charlie to help her. The masked man murders Michelle, and when Charlie arrives to help, the masked man murders him, too.
Meanwhile, back at the house, Josh is emailed footage of Charlie and Mina cheating. Angry and running away from Mina, he’s murdered. Mina sees the murderer, but takes off running through the woods. As she’s being pursued in the night, she falls off a cliff and dies. The masked murderer wins, and in the stinger, we see the murderer removing all the camera equipment and re-installing it in the next rental. The end! Everyone dies, except the masked murderer, whose identity is never revealed, so that the unknown third Franco brother — who hangs out with Larry Hemsworth — can make the sequel.
For more on on the ending, and similarities with the Golden State Killer, check out this phenomenal piece by Kristy.