If you are looking for no-frills, lo-fi, indie horror thrills, look no further than the excellent Rent-A-Pal. Written and directed by Jon Stevenson, Rent-A-Pal stars Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek fame) and Brian Landis Folkins, as the protagonist.
Set in 1990, Folkins plays a lonely bachelor named David who searches for an escape from the day-to-day drudgery of caring for his aging mother (Kathleen Brady). While seeking a partner through a video dating service, David discovers a strange VHS tape called Rent-A-Pal, hosted by the charming and charismatic Andy (Wheaton). The tape offers him much-needed company, compassion, and friendship. But, Andy’s friendship comes with a price, and David might not be able to afford the deadly cost.
Stevenson keeps the production lean, with the story told through a small cast of characters. David is the main character. He is in his forties, overweight and devotes 100% of his time and effort in caring for his mother. His loneliness is palpable but he understands the importance of subordinating his needs in favour of his mother.
That is, until he gets hold of Rent-A-Pal. When David ‘meets’ Andy, while initially he is cold to the concept, he soon warms up to the idea of a virtual companion and begins to believe that he is actually conversing with the person in the VHS tape.
The movie does an excellent job with blurring the reality and David’s imagination. Outwardly, it does appear that David simply sees and hears what he wants to and the Rent-A-Pal tape is nothing more than what it appears to be. But there are moments where Andy really does seem to be talking to David and the situation he is in. Or is that only happening in David’s mind?
Naturally, things go from bad to worse at a time when it appears that David’s dream of a partner is finally coming true. This is the only plot point that stretches the suspension of disbelief somewhat but once you accept David’s dependence on Andy’s ‘companionship’, then any discrepancy resolves by itself. But only just.
Once again, a movie like Rent-A-Pal demonstrates that the horror genre is ripe for creative minds to exploit even absent of a big budget as long as the story and execution are strong. Recommended!
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