RENT-A-PAL is definitely a horror film that hits all the nostalgic media buttons. Writer and Director Jon Stevenson based the film on real-life phenomena: a VHS curiosity called “Rent-A-Friend” that was circulating in 1987. The tape was based on the idea that lonely people needed a “friend” who would listen to them, and it’s literally just 40 minutes of a guy named Sam sitting in a chair, talking to you as if he can see and hear you.
Sounds crazy, right? You have no idea — I lived through this era and it still seems like something that is completely made up (although you can see what I’m talking about! Because you can watch Rent-a-Friend on YouTube right now!).
In this (even more) twisted horror version update, everyone’s fave cool-nerd Wil Wheaton plays Andy, the fictional VHS friend-o of loner David (Brian Landis Folkins). David is a middle-aged stay-at-home caretaker for his ailing mother, and literally lives in his parent’s basement — the kiss of death for single people trying to date in the 80s & 90s.
David is deep into a video dating service investment that isn’t really working out too well for him when he discovers “Rent-A-Pal” in the video sale bin. Initially turned off by the faux friendliness of Andy, David finds what he needs on his second watch: Andy is a friend who listens, someone who doesn’t judge — a person who can REALLY understand what David goes through every single day.
After a series of mishaps with the video dating service, Andy meets Lisa (Amy Rutledge), a woman who’s also caregiver, and who seems to understand David’s frustrations and challenges — and likes him despite his current living situation. For the first time in forever, David is happy! But Andy, well … Andy doesn’t seem as stoked about his BFF’s newfound love interest. And, as expected, some bad shit starts to go down.
RENT-A-PAL is a slow burn (and I mean slooooowwwwwww) — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I would just say that if you’re expecting tons of splatter, this isn’t gonna be it for you. But as far as psychological thrillers go, Rent-A-Pal delivers. Both Folkins and Wheaton are pitch perfect in their roles, and watching David’s roller-coaster of emotions is a treat. Also, the film is set in 1990 and it feels authentic as hell (some of Andy’s dialog is even taken right from the original VHS!).
Worth a watch, and definitely feels like a fresh idea in a sea of the usual horror movie plots.
Rent-A-Pal is now available on demand pretty everywhere you can rent streaming movies