Friday, 11 September 2020

Rent-A-Pal (Movie Review)


Online dating is something I'll never be able to fully wrap my head around. But the popularity of services like Tinder means I must be in the minority here. Guess you can never really underestimate the very human desire to connect with someone else. And apparently, people once resorted to using video dating services to achieve the same thing, or at least that is the premise of the new psychological thriller, Rent-A-Pal.

In the movie, a man named David (Brian Landis Folkins) is growing weary of being unable to find the perfect match. He is a mild-mannered 40-year-old who has devoted much of his adult life to caring for his mother (Kathleen Brady), a 73-year-old widower who suffers from dementia. But after he discovers a tape titled Rent-A-Pal at his video dating services store, promising a friendship just like the one he has been craving for so long, he decides to give it a shot.

And so he meets Andy (Wil Wheaton), the star of the tape and his new self-appointed friend. His charm and overall charisma offers David a much-needed respite from the stresses of having to be a full-time caregiver to his mother, even though he is only able to interact with him through canned, prerecorded responses. Except those canned responses begin to seem more and more real to David the more he watches the tape. Soon, what started out as a simple friendship turns into an all-consuming desire to keep Andy happy at all costs.

Rent-A-Pal is a disturbing look at mental illness. I'll start by highlighting the things I liked about it. First off, the movie really nails the look and aesthetic of the early 90s time period during which it was set. So expect to see plenty of authentic looking CRT TVs, VHS tapes and recorders. The film also builds on a growing sense of dread, which culminates in a finale that is wild and almost too uncomfortable to watch, if also somewhat fairly predictable.

That said, it does tend to take its sweet time to get there, with a slow-burn pacing that I can see easily deterring anyone with a relatively short attention span from making it past its opening scenes. The ending as well, while wild and uncomfortable to watch like I said, is still a bit too open-ended for my liking, meaning that we never get any real resolution to the conflict at the center of the film, or at least one I consider a satisfying enough payoff to the events that led us there.

But those issues aside, I still think that Rent-A-Pal is worth a watch by fans of psychological thrillers with a hint of supernatural horror thrown in. Emphasis on the hint, because the movie never fully commits to either direction.

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