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Dan Stevens Talks the Thoughtful Horror of THE RENTAL

Throughout 2020, IFC has been bringing inventive, thoughtful, and scary horror flicks to the big screen thanks to the nearly lost art of the drive-in theater. Their next big release comes with a stellar cast and a famous face behind the camera. Dave Franco directs the chilly little thriller, The Rental, which centers on two couples who venture to the wilds of Oregon for a relaxing weekend. As anyone who has ever watched a horror movie may predict, it doesn’t go according to plan.

To celebrate the upcoming release, we chatted with Dan Stevens about what drew him to the dark indie flick and how horror can explore humanity whilst also offering up comfort and humor.

This interview contains very minor spoilers for The Rental

In the wake of killer turns in The Guest and Apostle, Stevens—who’s got a soft spot for horror—continues to carve out a name for himself in genre fare. “It’s interesting to sort of mix up bigger studio comedies with something smaller, more intimate, and a bit weird,” Stevens told Nerdist. “I’m a huge fan of the genre too, and I love contributing to the well of movies in the scene. I suppose I’ve done a few now and the audiences are great! They’re really passionate and when you land a good horror thriller, when you give people some thrills—in the same way with a great comedy if you make people laugh a lot—people really respond to it, and I think it’s great to put it out there.”

The fact that The Rental was also on a different scale to some of his other work was a big draw, Stevens said. “I’ve got a pretty broad spectrum of tastes and I think that very often these smaller projects are a chance to either try something different or work with somebody a bit different. It’s often a great forum for emerging directors, like in this case. Obviously, Dave Franco himself is not an emerging personality, but he’s an emerging director as this is his first film. And I’m very intrigued by first time directors, especially actors-turned-directors. I’m very keen to support them. He was really passionate about this project, and it sounded very cool and interesting to me.”

THE RENTAL'S Dan Stevens Talks Horror, Subversion, and Comfort_1

IFC Films

Set in a solitary and gorgeous home, the film plays into fears of surveillance, isolation, and the breakdown of trust, all of which made it a surprisingly enjoyable shooting experience. “It was a small crew in the middle of nowhere in Oregon with a lovely small cast, and it has a very different kind of flavor,” Stevens explained. “It was all shot in the house, pretty much. There were certainly no studios. There was a little bit we shot in Portland, but otherwise we were entirely at this extraordinary house on the cliffs on the Oregon coast, which was beautiful. It’s a part of the country I’d always wanted to see. It’s not nearly as scary as it comes across in the movie; it’s really wild and peaceful. No mobile phone reception either, which makes a huge difference to a set as people actually talk to each other. It was amazing!”

The Rental feels simple at first glance, but it’s a layered little thriller that plays on the horror of humanity and the pain we cause each other. That exploration is something that really spoke to Stevens about the project and the finished film. “I think it’s certainly very interesting watching that film again recently, how the axis of tension builds early on in the movie,” Stevens said. “One of them is obviously an axis of racial tension. You have this character of Mina, and the fact that her request to book this place was denied and Charlie’s was taken up.”

Stevens continued, “There’s a very interesting scene in the car as they’re driving there, and this discussion about race is going on around Mina. Dave is, I think, really very respectful of the question at hand because he just dwells on something that Sheila [Vand] has talked a lot about where, as an ethnic minority, you’re often stuck in the midst of a bunch of white people discussing something that really pertains to you. And I think the subtle ways in which these racial microaggressions take place around the character is very, very interesting.”

THE RENTAL'S Dan Stevens Talks Horror, Subversion, and Comfort_2

IFC Films

As for what drew Stevens to the character of Charlie, it was all about subverting expectations. “Really, the whole film is playing with archetypes,” Stevens said. “So Charlie is this sort of nice and upstanding guy early on, but there are just sort of things that creep in and you start questioning him. That’s what we wanted to do, to have this character who seems upstanding who we sort of erode. I was really interested in that so that by the end you’ve revealed quite a different kind of character. It was really interesting to plot those journeys for all the characters with Dave.”

The horror thriller subgenre is a popular one filled with masses of movies. But to Stevens, Franco presented a uniquely creepy take. “He explores the erosion of trust and this mad world that we live in now, where you can go and stay in somebody else’s house at the click of an app,” Stevens said. “By one turn it’s a brilliant thing, but by another it’s actually deeply weird and creepy. And he preys upon that and this idea of total surveillance. The fact that we all now carry around multiple cameras that can potentially tap into our everyday goings-on. Then there’s also just the darker inner-workings of our own human mind. It’s a really interesting, playful melting pot of those fears and paranoia that he mixes up. That made it a really interesting pitch for me.”

Finding comfort in horror has long been something that brings horror fans together, but in 2020 the nature of coming together to watch a movie with other people has become a truly rare and special experience. It’s one that Stevens experienced firsthand at the drive-in premiere for The Rental.

“There was a real desire for people to safely gather and enjoy something collectively, to hear a couple of shrieks and screams and maybe a burst of applause from a few cars away at certain points in the movie when something insane happens,” Stevens said. “Yeah, people find a sort of peculiar comfort in horror sometimes. Something in the fact that you know however horrifying the world outside might be it’s better than what’s happening on your screen… hopefully.”

The Rental will be in select drive-ins, theaters and on demand on July 24th!

Featured Image: IFC