Dave Franco On His Sinister Directorial Debut, ‘The Rental’

When you first hear Dave Franco has co-written and directed a movie, the first thing that probably comes to mind isn’t horror film. But, then again, what really does come to mind? Franco, for his part, assumes people would think it’s a comedy, but the more thought that’s put into it, Dave Franco’s directorial debut really could be about anything. Yes, he’s done comedies, but he’s also done films like If Beale Street Could Talk. Whatever is lurking “inside the mind of Dave Franco” really could be a whole host of genres.

Co-written with Joe Swanberg, The Rental follows two couples (played by Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White) as they spend what is supposed to be a romantic, leisurely weekend away at a rented Oregon house with a scenic view. Things start to get weird when they think they are being spied upon by the home’s owner, which complicates an already volatile situation the involves alcohol, drugs, two brothers who don’t like each other very much (yes, Franco is aware of the conclusions you might draw), and infidelity.

Franco says one of his goals was to make a horror movie that didn’t use jump scares, because he loves a great genre movie. Ahead, he explains where this all came from and if, someday, as we often see with horror directors, if we’ll get a movie trailer that promotes a new project of his as, “From the twisted mind of Dave Franco.”

I saw you actually had your premiere at a drive-in theater. That’s great.

You know, we’re obviously living in a new world right now and distributors are trying to find new ways to release their films. I feel very lucky to have been paired with IFC who is really thinking outside the box and being agile. Like you said, we had a drive-in premiere for the film. Everyone kept telling me this is the first time anyone has ever had a premiere at a drive-in. So at least have that under our belts.

It sounds pretty fun.

Actually, it ended up being really fun. It definitely wasn’t what I imagined for the first public screening of the movie, but in certain ways it was even better. Most standard premiers are a little bit stuffy…

Oh yeah.

The red carpet…

They are strangely not very fun. But I saw the pictures from your event and it actually looked fun.

Yeah, this was the opposite where it felt really relaxed and there wasn’t a spotlight on me and the cast. It was more of a communal experience where everyone had been cooped up in their homes for so long. Essentially, it was just a bunch of movie lovers coming together and having this joint experience, which is very rare these days.

This should be your thing. Even when, hopefully, this is all over someday, you should always do it at a drive-in theater.

[Laughs] It’s not a bad idea. And I guess I’d be the first to make it “their thing.”

This movie is sinister.

Yeah. [Laughs] Is that the question?

Yeah, that’s the question. “This movie is sinister.” I guess when I first heard that Dave Franco was going to direct a movie, I guess “sinister” didn’t come to mind.

Yes, yes. Definitely. I think most people know me from the comedies I’ve acted in, so everyone is surprised that my directorial debut is a horror film. But as a viewer, there’s nothing I love more than a smart genre film. I think about the work of Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, Amy Seimetz, Jeremy Saulnier, Sean Durkin. These are filmmakers who make projects that feel more nuanced and atmospheric. They really take the time to creep up on you as opposed to a lot of genre films that rely too heavily on cheap jump scares.

The cheap jump scare is what I hate because they are scary, but I don’t like being scared in that way. That kicks in something in your body that’s uncomfortable.

Yes! These films are more about the characters and their relationships. They ultimately linger with you long after the film ends. These other ones that only rely on the jump scares, they are usually populated with these two-dimensional stock characters that you’re not invested in at all. So by the time the movie ends, you’ve already forgotten about it and they just feel disposable.

Yeah, if you go back to movies like The Shining and The Exorcist and even The Thing, they don’t rely on jump scares. And I admired that about your movie.

Thank you, man. I think there’s a general stigma against horror movies, where a lot of people look down on them and write them off as being schlocky and cheap. But the best ones, the movies from these directors that I mentioned, they have as much merit as some of these serious dramas that are typically recognized during awards season.

The reason I wanted to write this script with Joe Swanberg is because his main strengths lie in characters and relationships. Our goal from the beginning was to create a tense relationship drama where the interpersonal issues between the characters were just as thrilling as the fact that there was a psycho killer lurking in the shadows. At its core the movie really is about these characters and relationships, then we sprinkle the horror elements on top to help accentuate the problems that they’re going through. In my mind, when I’m having problems within my romantic relationships, that can be scarier than anything else. So I think we were trying to tap into that as well.

A big element of this movie is about the tension between brothers. When writing it, did you think about how everyone was going to read into this and jump to a bunch of conclusions? Even if stuff is based on actual experiences.

You know what’s funny? That thought never crossed my mind until this press tour that I’m currently on. I’m sure subconsciously I included elements from our relationship into the film. I think the brotherly dynamic in the film is more reflective of how me and my brother were a decade ago. Where my brother used to look at me as the baby in the family, no matter how old I got. Now he does look at me as more of an equal.

Is directing where you want your focus to go? You know how when you see the trailers, sometimes with famous horror directors they say things like, “From the twisted mind of so and so.” Is that what you want? “From the twisted mind of Dave Franco.”

[Laughs] No, I mean, I would love to continue to direct but I hope that I’m able to balance that with acting and writing and producing and just continuing to attach myself to projects that feel unique and original, regardless of what role I’m playing in those projects. It is nice to flex a different muscle every once in a while. I definitely have a few ideas in mind for what my follow up project could be as a director. That being said, I’m attached to a couple of projects as an actor that I’m really excited about. So. I guess I just need to kind of wait and see which one comes to fruition first.

Well, I hope you get that someday. Where we just hear, “From the twisted mind of Dave Franco,” and we know what we’re in for.

[Laughs] Yeah, I appreciate all the kind words man. It’s very nice of you.

‘The Rental’ will be released on July 24th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.