Rent-A-Pal though set in the 1990s, draws a metaphor to the scary side of the internet. It taps onto the susceptibilities of a lonely soul, shows him the fantasies of a happy and chirpy life, allures him, attracts him towards the mainstream league and then finally when the dependence and the trust is on its full swing, it creates a pitfall, from where it is impossible to escape.
It is the era of VHS tapes and blocky television sets. Director Jon Stevenson creates a dark world. A world where happiness seems to be missing. A world with no sunshine. Brian Landis Folkins and Wil Wheaton do most of the heavy lifting. They are ably supported by Kathleen Brady and Adrian Egolf, the latter bringing that sweet yet irritating aura and behavior of an agent from the call center, who are at their best behaviors only because they are paid to do so.
David (Brian Folkins), is a lonely 40 year old, living a monotonous and a non exciting life. He lives with his mother and has made the basement his den. His mother suffers from dementia and often fails to recognize her son also. David doesn’t work as he can’t leave his mother for more than an hour. The family depends upon the social security of David’s mother for their finances.
David is a regular customer of a company called Vedio Rendezvous. The company records the profile of males and females in VHS tapes, and then tries to create matches. It is a sort of tinder on VHS tapes, the only difference being that you cannot just swipe left or right, but have to go through the long and excruciating process of calling the company again, letting them know which girl or boy you want to match with, and then waiting for their response.
David finds a weird tape, named Rent-A-Pal, in their office and feels an urge to buy it. The host in the tape is Andy, who tries to fill the void in your life by asking you questions about your life and giving all the attention you need. Even though the video is pre-recorded, it is designed in a way that you feel like you are having a real conversation with the man inside the television set. It is creepy and unsettling at times often dwelling into the psychological darkness of a virtual friendship.
A Forlorn life
Some childhood traumas accompanied with some family problems resulted in a state, where self confidence totally abandoned David. He does not has any friends or acquaintances with whom he can have a conversation. Very early in his life, David learnt how to create an impervious shell around himself. He became so paranoid due to certain childhood embarrassments that he didn’t allow anybody to seep inside. He closed his eyes just so the world couldn’t see him . Now that he is almost 40, he longs for a companionship. Someone, who gives that warm and fuzzy feeling. David is done with feeling sorry for himself and approaches his loneliness with a brazen assurance.
A Perilous Companionship
Andy fills in that void in David’s life to an extent where he gives him preference over real connections. He submerges himself in the enchanting aura of his companion, his sole best friend. The tape is designed in a manner that it creates an illusion of a very comforting and understanding relationship. It is hypnotic and addictive as it frees you from your insecurities and makes you comfortable in your skin. Nothing else was of more value to David than a sense of true companionship and a comrade who understands him, with whom he shares his deepest thoughts and darkest secrets. Little did he know that it would lead him to an austere path, from where he would be unable to find his way back.
The Gloomy Curves
Director Jon Stevenson takes you on an outlandish path, where little or no light is visible. Till Rent-A-Pal reaches climax there is a complete catastrophic darkness and the characters peel off their skin, to unleash an unfathomable abyss. An abyss that even the ones bearing it don’t seem to understand it fully. The actions of the characters feel unreasonable and a bit heightened at times than what one would normally expect, but the performances make up for that.
Whil Wheaton is like that smiling assassin, who wouldn’t flinch twice while carrying out a dastardly act. His performance is the true personification of horror and makes you uncomfortable and uneasy.
Rent-A-Pal is one of the better thrillers produced this year and is clearly not suitable if you want to spend a pleasant and light evening. This spine chilling and exquisite attempt will surely make the audience fidgety and uneasy.
Rent-A-Pal is available on Video on Demand.
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