The Rental – Marketing Recap

How IFC Films is selling a confined-quarters horror rom-com.

Dave Franco wrote (with some help from Joe Swanberg) and directed this week’s new release The Rental. The movie stars Alison Brie as Michelle, who goes on a weekend getaway with her husband Charlie (Dan Stevens) as well as her sister Mina (Sheila Vand) and her husband – who is also Charlie’s brother – Josh (Jeremy Allen White).

What should be a pleasant time away for the two couples takes a nasty turn as suspicions among the group mount that someone is spying on them in the house, which they’ve rented from a home-sharing service. As the paranoia rises and the actual danger mounts, long-buried secrets among the four come to the surface, making the situation not only dangerous but uncomfortable.

IFC Films’ campaign has focused on the capsule nature of the story as well as the threats the vacationers face in their getaway house. The movie currently has a 77 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, reflecting the mixed reviews it’s received to date.

The Posters

Just one poster for the film. Released in May (by marketing agency Art Machine), the one-sheet immediately communicates a topsy-turvy element to the story by showing a lone figure falling, but with the ground at the top and the sky at the bottom. The copy “Secluded getaway. Killer views.” is a bit on-the-nose, undermining whatever subtlety the image alone contained, but is meant to appeal to audiences looking for scares over a relationship drama.

The Trailers

As the trailer (146,000 views on YouTube), released in mid-June, opens both couples are arriving at the house they’ll be sharing during vacation. It’s not long before what should be a nice time away turns creepy and twisted, as they find hidden cameras, have to deal with strange happenings and what seems to be plenty of emotional manipulation. All of that means tension in the non-ideal marriages bubbles to the surface and everyone is ready to snap. Oh, and there may be *actual* danger in the form of someone lurking in the shadows trying to kill them.

Online and Social

Just the most basic of information on IFC Films’ website for the movie, including the trailer and information both on the audience’s watch-at-home options.

Advertising and Promotions

IFC Films acquired distribution rights in April, announcing a release date at that time.

In June the studio hosted a drive-in premiere screening at the Vineland Drive-In in L.A..

Short video promos like this were released on social media and likely also used in promoted posts there. While none crossed my radar specifically, it’s a good bet videos like that along with the key art were used in other online ads as well.

A clip released just recently shows a key moment in the story, with Michelle discovering a camera that’s been placed in one of the rental home’s showers.

Media and Press

A first-look still came out in April at the same time IFC Films announced it had acquired the film.

An interview with Franco allowed him to talk about why this felt like a good time to get into directing, how it’s part of his career path to date and more.

Stevens spoke about how Franco approached him with the project and what he thought about the story as well as the promotional efforts to date in an interview.

The unusual nature of the release – including the fact that it arrives without the kind of festival screenings it likely would have benefited from – and other topics were covered by Franco here, including why he chose to focus on directing and not also star in the film. In another interview he talked about working with his real-life girlfriend Brie, something they’ve done before and which made this project easier to manage.

Brie and Franco participated in a video interview where they talked about working together on this film as well as what inspired them to make other choices in their careers.

Overall

While the campaign has been successful in selling the thrills contained in the story, it leaves many elements – including who the characters are and why we should care about them – oddly unclear. We get that the house they’re all staying at is under surveillance, probably by the owner, but it doesn’t explain very well why they react in the manner they do and how that changes the interpersonal relationships in the group.

That’s not to say it’s ineffective, as there are plenty of elements in the marketing that will appeal to fans of both horror and straight drama, it’s just that some parts could have been brought a bit more to the forefront in order to make a more convincing case to the audience.

It also should be noted that while “four friends go away and horror ensues” isn’t exactly a new premise, I’m getting strong Baghead vibes from the campaign and the presentation of the story.

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